"For a Cabinet official to recommend prayer as a solution or call attention to his own devotions may violate the Constitution’s prohibition against establishment of religion. Most important, though, is that prayer doesn’t work. But if you want to test the power of prayer yourself, consider this. Apparently Secretary Vilsack’s been praying for rain every day; how’s that working out?"
Says the Council for Secular Humanism. They're wrong about the Establishment Clause, and I think the phrase "may violate" indicates that they know it. But they do have a point about government officials talking about prayer... or is that nothing more than the same point you could make about anybody praying? All that praying for things that don't happen generates evidence that prayer doesn't work.
I know the religion-based answers to that last point. (God answers prayers in ways other than granting the thing prayed-for, etc.) But I think it's different when a government official bandies religion about. A short, respectful reference to God or to prayer is standard rhetoric that isn't out of place in politician-speak. Did Vilsack go too far with "I get on my knees every day. And I’m saying an extra prayer now. If I had a rain prayer or a rain dance I could do, I would do it”?
It's not like he's trying to excuse himself for failing to do something he could do. I know government officials frequently act as though they could control the great forces of nature/human behavior/the economy, so I'd rather see the open acknowledgment that there's nothing to be done, which is basically what Vilsack is saying.
Now, if that means praying is nothing, maybe religionists should be offended. Also, "rain dance" might be offensive to Native Americans. Come on, everyone, let's get offended.