The Secular Purpose of Prayer?

I realize that I may not be as deeply schooled in theology as many Religious Right leaders – or even Fox News anchors – but when exactly did prayer become a secular activity?

Occasionally live television provides a vivid display of the mental gymnastics and cognitive dissonance deployed to advance an argument. Take Fox News’ Megyn Kelly, who recently asked what was so “promotional about religion” in setting aside a day to celebrate “the role that God has played in the formation of this country and its laws.”

Discussing a court ruling that declared national prayer day unconstitutional, Kelly hosted Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. Lynn set forth an argument against the appropriateness of the government setting aside a day to commemorate prayer:

Prayer is religious. It’s nothing but that. There is no secular purpose here. This isn’t like declaring Christmas a holiday, which the federal government does, because that’s got not just religious rituals, but now glommed onto it all secular rituals. National Day of Prayer is only about religion. There is nothing secular about it.

At this point, Kelly jumped in to display an astounding failure to grasp the concept:

Why can’t it be a day where people acknowledge not just prayer, but they are encouraged to meditate as well, which is not necessarily prayer? And why can’t it be a day where we take a moment and we stop and we acknowledge the role that God has played in the formation of this country and its laws. What’s so promotional about religion there?

And it is not just Fox News, as Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council argued made a similar argument to Anderson Cooper, claiming that there is no coercion involved and therefore the National Day of Prayer is constitutional since it has a “secular purpose because it unites the nation, especially in times of trouble, in times of economic downturn, in times of war”: 

Yes, the goal of the National Day of Prayer is to unite the nation in prayer … and, according to the right-wing National Day of Prayer Task Force, unite the nation in Christian prayer:

The National Day of Prayer Task Force’s mission is to communicate with every individual the need for personal repentance and prayer, mobilizing the Christian community to intercede for America and its leadership in the seven centers of power: Government, Military, Media, Business, Education, Church and Family.

In fact, the National Day of Prayer Task Force even explicitly bans non-Christian groups from NPDTF events:

The National Day of Prayer Task Force was a creation of the National Prayer Committee for the expressed purpose of organizing and promoting prayer observances conforming to a Judeo-Christian system of values. People with other theological and philosophical views are, of course, free to organize and participate in activities that are consistent with their own beliefs. This diversity is what Congress intended when it designated the Day of Prayer, not that every faith and creed would be homogenized, but that all who sought to pray for this nation would be encouraged to do so in any way deemed appropriate. It is that broad invitation to the American people that led, in our case, to the creation of the Task Force and the Judeo-Christian principles on which it is based.

Explain again how this is part of a “secular purpose.”