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Praying for common sense

April 16, 2010 |  9:47 am

It would be understandable if supporters of the separation of church and state suspected that there's a fifth column in the judiciary determined to make the separationist cause look bad. Latest example: A federal district judge's ruling that the National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional. 

Like Michael Newdow's challenge to "In God We Trust" on U.S. coins, the Freedom From Religion Foundation's lawsuit against the Day of Prayer might be justified on a purist 1st Amendment theory about the establishment of religion.

But there is a doctrine in the law known as "de minimis," from a Latin maxim that basically says that government officials shouldn't concern themselves with trivialities. The National Day of Prayer is a pretty good candidate for the "de minimis" rule.

Not throwing a constitutional fit about what is sometimes called "ceremonial deism" makes it easier to oppose serious breaches of the wall of separation, like official prayers in public schools. In the culture wars, as in real ones, sometimes you need to choose your battles.

-- Michael McGough


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