Senate considering bill on prayer day

Chip Limehouse

COLUMBIA -- South Carolina legislators want to establish a State Day of Prayer, in what could be the first state backlash against a federal judge's ruling that the national prayer day is unconstitutional.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston, said last month's ruling on the National Day of Prayer is an assault on religion, and he wanted a state day in place in case the Obama administration's appeal is eventually lost.

His bill would insert a single sentence into state law setting that day as the first Thursday in May, same as the national prayer day.

"We have a day for everything else. Why not promote prayer in the state?" Limehouse said. "We promote prayer and religion, and nothing's wrong with that."

He introduced his bill April 27, two weeks after the federal ruling. It sailed through the House two days later, bypassing the committee process as lawmakers from both parties signed on as co-sponsors. It is now in the Senate.

A federal judge in Wisconsin said the designated national prayer day amounts to a call for religious action. 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.

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The Obama administration has said it will appeal the decision. Meanwhile, the ruling has no effect, and Thursday's planned activities can continue. The administration has argued that the statute simply acknowledges the role of religion in the United States.

Obama issued a prayer-day proclamation last year but did not hold public events with religious leaders, as former President George W. Bush did.