Let’s Start An Evolution!
A consortium of leaders from within the community of reason endorsed the idea of a National Day of Reason. This observance is held in parallel with the National Day of Prayer on the first Thursday in May each year. The goal of this effort is to celebrate reason—a concept all Americans can support—and to raise public awareness about the persistent threat to religious liberty posed by government intrusion into the private sphere of worship.
The National Day of Reason also exists to inspire the secular community to be visible and active on this day to set the right example for how to effect positive change. Local organizations might use “Day of Reason” to label their events, or they might choose labels such as Day of Action, Day of Service, or Rational Day of Care. The important message is to provide a positive, useful, constitutional alternative to the exclusionary National Day of Prayer. To facilitate the commemoration of the National Day of Reason by individuals and organizations throughout the U.S., the American Humanist Association and the Washington Area Secular Humanists joined together in 2003 to launch this National Day of Reason web site. This web site is designed to serve as the focal point for an effort to recognize the National Day of Reason, and as a platform to offer a criticism of the federally-sponsored National Day of Prayer.
Why Do We Oppose the National Day of Prayer?
The National Day of Prayer violates the First Amendment of the US Constitution because it asks federal and local government entities to set aside tax dollar supported time and space to engage in religious ceremonies. This results in unconstitutional governmental support of religion over no religion.
Lead by fundamentalist Christian Shirley Dobson, the National Day of Prayer Task Force promoted thousands of events specifically in accordance with its Judeo-Christian beliefs and focused on a small segment of the Protestant Christianity. Since they hold their events on the government sponsored National Day of Prayer, government officials of all levels participate in these events as if they were government endorsed.
The Supreme Court has made it clear (and most Americans agree) that state sponsored prayer in school is inappropriately exclusionary. Why is a nationally sponsored day of prayer any more inclusive? This national effort geared toward a small slice of the religious spectrum is clearly outside the boundaries of proper governmental reach.
The National Day of Prayer makes those who don’t pray feel like second-class citizens. Why set aside a national day that needlessly excludes?
Religious Americans who wish to pray don’t need to be reminded by government to do so, so there’s no reason to limit prayer to a single day for those who chose to practice their chosen faith in that way. Government has no business saying when or what Americans should do when and if they engage in religious practice.
Government also violates the First Amendment with the National Day of Prayer by acting to promote a certain manifestation of religion. It emphasizes only one form of religious practice, and therefore discriminates against the many others, including alms giving, social justice, fasting, peace activism and meditation.
Many traditional religious groups encourage adherents not to make their prayer public, so this state sponsored public display of prayer is a direct affront to such teachings and disrespects countless religious Americans. Many Americans faithfully follow the words from the Sermon on the Mount, “When you pray don’t do it loudly in the synagogue or on street corners so that everyone can see you and think you are really good and holy.”
Whenever government involves itself in religious practice as is done with the National Day of Prayer it taints that religious practice by reducing the co-opted religion’s effectiveness to protest government action, and also (in an infeasible effort to broaden the practice’s appeal) government inappropriately dilutes the messages of faithful adherents.
Freedom of expression and worship, including the opportunity to pray or not pray as we wish, are already present without government endorsement. There is no need to set aside a public day for prayer.