May 7, 2016

Abolish the National Day of Prayer

Prayer for USA

The U.S. government recently had another unconstitutional National Day of Prayer, an occasion where they ignore the "spirit" of the Establishment Clause and celebrate theism. Legal rulings aside, the annual tradition has continued despite the objections of secular Americans. As I have said previously, the day isn't even just about prayer or the promotion of superstition more generally. That would be bad enough, but the National Day of Prayer has become all about promoting a particular form of one specific religion: evangelical fundamentalist Christianity. And once again, as bad as this is, it gets even worse. How so? The day is all about the intrusion of evangelical fundamentalist Christianity into U.S. politics with the tacit approval of our elected officials.

Anne Graham Lotz, daughter of evangelical fundamentalist Christian Billy Graham and sister of Christian extremist Franklin Graham, was the chair of the National Day of Prayer Task Force this year. The title of this article suggests that she is more interested in prayer than politics. This could be a positive development; however, I did not find much support for this claim in the content of the article. What is quite apparent is that Ms. Lotz believes that our problems can be solved through a "return to God." For those of us interested in reality-based solutions to the significant real-world problems we face, this will be recognized as a bad idea. Unfortunately, it is also a bad idea with tremendous influence among our elected officials.

The National Day of Prayer has become an annual tradition where a parade of evangelical fundamentalist Christians take turns complaining about what they perceive as the moral decline of the U.S. And the primary evidence for this decline? You guessed it: legal same-sex marriage. Evidently, they still have not come to terms with this. And yes, this is the event to which our government has attached itself every year since 1952. Remember, the National Day of Prayer originates from an act of Congress and is renewed each year through official government proclamations. It might not be too much of a stretch to regard this as an example of government-sanctioned Christian bigotry.

Atheists, humanists, secularists, and/or freethinkers object to the National Day of Prayer every year. Our voices are largely ignored, as are our efforts to gain recognition for a secular alternative like the National Day of Reason. It is high time for the National Day of Prayer to be abolished. Evangelical fundamentalist Christians are perfectly capable of praying as Jesus allegedly instructed them and without the support of their secular government. I'm not sure what we need to do in order to end this particular tradition, but it seems that it is one worth ending.

In a recent interview, David Silverman, President of American Atheists, said that he estimates that at least 20% of U.S. citizens are atheists. He acknowledged that only a fraction of them are willing to identify themselves as atheists, but he is convinced that many are merely pretending to believe. I don't know about the 20% number specifically, but I think he's right that there are far more atheists out there than anyone realizes. In order for us to end the National Day of Prayer, it seems like helping to reduce the stigma around atheism and persuading more people to begin referring to themselves as atheists could be a sensible step in the right direction. Even if we are unable to organize ourselves in any meaningful way, our numbers could make us much more difficult for politicians to ignore.