Monday is Memorial Day in the United States, a national holiday. The day commemorates the men and women who have died serving in the US military. There will be speeches, parades, picnics and wreath-layings across the country.
There will also be an officially-promoted prayer. By law, the President “is requested” each year to issue a proclamation “calling on the people of the United States to observe Memorial Day by praying, according to their individual religious faith, for permanent peace.” The proclamation is supposed to designate a time on Memorial Day for the prayer and invite the media to participate. This year’s proclamation, issued yesterday, reads in part as follows:
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim Memorial Day, May 28, 2012, as a day of prayer for permanent peace, and I designate the hour beginning in each locality at 11:00 a.m. of that day as a time to unite in prayer. I also ask all Americans to observe the National Moment of Remembrance beginning at 3:00 p.m. local time on Memorial Day.
I’m not sure why, but the Memorial Day Prayer for Peace hasn’t drawn the same attention as the yearly presidential Thanksgiving Day Proclamation. Perhaps this is because the Memorial Day prayer is a more recent phenomenon, dating, like the inclusion of the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, only from the 1950s. Perhaps people are too busy enjoying their picnics to notice. In any event, notwithstanding the Court’s occasional pronouncements about the need to avoid even generic official endorsements of religion, non-sectarian endorsements like the Memorial Day prayer are very much a part of the American constitutional tradition. Americans, on the whole, seem to like them and want them to continue. Happy Memorial Day.