For the first time ever last week, a sitting member of the United States Congress recognized the first Thursday of May as the National Day of Reason, celebrated by millions of Americans as a more inclusive alternative to the Congressionally-mandated National Day of Prayer that is held on the same day.
U.S. Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA) entered the following proclamation, which resulted from collaboration with the Secular Coalition for America, into the congressional record last week:
The National Day of Reason, observed by millions of people in this country and around the world since 2003, celebrates the application of reason and the positive impacts it has had on humanity. Reason and rational discourse have the power to improve living conditions around the world and cultivate intelligent, moral, and ethical interactions among people.
Reason and rational thinking have made our country great. The Constitution of the United States of America is based upon the philosophies developed during the historical Age of Reason and the idea that citizens engaging in rational discourse and decision-making can govern themselves. The Constitution also contains a strong separation of church and state, making it clear that government should continue to be built on reason.
Our nation faces many problems—ending two wars, creating jobs, educating our children, tackling our budget, and protecting our safety net. Although the gravity of these issues may drive many to prayer, the way we will solve them is through the application of reason.
The National Day of Reason is also about taking time to improve our communities—whether that means holding a blood drive or collecting items for the local food bank. It is also about ensuring that our government represents citizens of all beliefs and backgrounds.
I encourage everyone to join in observing this day and focusing upon the employment of reason, critical thinking, the scientific method, and free inquiry to the resolution of human problems and for the welfare of human kind. It is the duty and responsibility of every American to promote the development and application of reason.
We are extremely thankful to Representative Stark, the only openly nontheist member of Congress, for having the courage to promote reason as the only viable strategy for solving our nation’s woes. Americans are, of course, free to pray if it they choose, but SCA believes it is a violation of the separation of church and state when the Congress designates a specific day for the president of our secular nation to encourage all Americans to pray.
SCA Government Relations Manager Amanda Knief was interviewed by the Christian Broadcasting Network yesterday to convey that message: (Her comment starts around 1:11):
Not all Americans believe it’s proper for the government to call for a Day of Prayer.
Amanda Knief, the government relations manager for the Secular Coalition for America, said it violates separation of church and state.
“We do not believe the government should be in the business of telling people when or how to pray,” she explained.
To his credit, President Obama did at least mention non-believers in his annual National Day of Prayer proclamation:
“Let us be thankful for the liberty that allows people of all faiths to worship or not worship according to the dictates of their conscience, and let us be thankful for the many other freedoms and blessings that we often take for granted.”
Still, if our country values and protects the freedom of religion, why does anyone think it’s OK for the president, in an official statement from his office, to “ask all people of faith to join me in asking God for guidance, mercy, and protection for our Nation”? After all, not even “all people of faith” believe in Obama’s “God.”
And that’s why the National Day of Reason is such a favorable alternative: It can be celebrated by ALL Americans, not just those who pray or believe in a god.
It should be mentioned that Stark’s proclamation was not the first time a public official has favored a day of reason or opposed a day of prayer. The City of New Orleans declared an official “Citywide Day of Reason” in 2009 and 2010, and former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura notably refused to sign a National Day of Prayer proclamation while in office, saying at the time, “I believe in the separation of church and state. We all have our own religious beliefs. There are people out there who are atheists, who don’t believe at all… They are all citizens of Minnesota and I have to respect that.”
To learn more about the National Day of Reason and related events, visit nationaldayofreason.org.