WASHINGTON -- About two dozen members of Congress on Wednesday condemned a federal judge's ruling that the National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional, saying prayer long has been part of the country's history.
"The American people believe in prayer. The American people believe that prayer changes things," said Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., as he urged the Obama administration to use "all means at its disposal" to challenge the decision.
Several of the lawmakers also called on the Justice Department to appeal the ruling.
The government has yet to make a determination as to what its next step will be, said Charles Miller, a Justice Department spokesman. The ruling still is being reviewed.
A federal judge in Wisconsin ruled last week that the National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional because it amounts to a call for religious action. The judge did not bar any observances until all appeals are exhausted.
Congress established the day in 1952 and in 1988 set the first Thursday in May as the day for presidents to issue proclamations asking Americans to pray.
Matt Lehrich, a spokesman for President Barack Obama, said Wednesday the president still plans to issue a proclamation for the upcoming prayer day.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Madison, Wis.-based group of atheists and agnostics, filed a lawsuit against the federal government in 2008 arguing the day violated the separation of church and state. The Obama administration has countered that the statute simply acknowledges the role of religion in the United States.
In her ruling, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb wrote that the government can no more enact laws supporting a day of prayer than it can encourage citizens to fast during Ramadan, attend a synagogue or practice magic.