National Day of Prayer/National Day of Reason, May 1, 2014
Recent years have seen a surge in court cases seeking removal of religious trappings from public lands, trying to keep religion out of science, and challenging prayer at taxpayer funded events, like city council meetings and public school activities. In a recent conversation the questions came up “Why do Atheists so often marginalize, and even ridicule, deeply held religious beliefs? What harm is done by devotion to one’s faith, and the public display of that faith?” Then, in a separate communication, two similar questions arose: “Why are you protesting (National Day of Prayer)? So what if they want to have a day of prayer.” Are Atheists simply bullies, or is there an underlying cause and effect, with a legitimate purpose?
The answer to the first two questions is somewhat complex. It begins with the reality that while it is the beliefs, per se, that are being marginalized and/or ridiculed, such is generally reactionary. It begins with the publicly espoused insistence that what the devoutly religious believe must be universally accepted as truth. Homosexuality is bad, because the book says it is bad. Birth control is bad, because it interferes with God’s will. Science is wrong, because it contradicts the inerrant word of God. While simply believing in the words of the big black book may seem benign on the surface, the harm comes when the devout try to codify their beliefs into American law. Anti-Gay Marriage laws, adding “Under God” to the Nation’s Pledge of Allegiance, creationism taught in science class, and legalized discrimination under the guise of “religious freedom” are but a few of the many examples of the damage done by using political muscle to enforce religious dogmas. The First Amendment of the Constitution includes, “Congress shall pass no laws respecting the establishment of religion”. 200 years later, Congress still passes laws that attempt to establish religion. And that brings us to the next two questions.
While it is often portrayed as a protest of prayer, it isn’t prayer that is being protested. The overwhelming majority of Atheists would admit that they really don’t care if religious people pray. While prayer is seen as a waste of time and energy, and statistically serves no useful purpose toward the goal of altering real world events, Atheists will acknowledge that it is a “feel good” endeavor for the faithful. Praying to a deity is essentially the same as asking a mall Santa for a specific gift. You may actually get what you asked for, but it won’t come from the entity being asked. Crediting a deity for the food on the table, for example, that was grown, packaged, and marketed solely through human hands, is silly and intellectually dishonest, but it doesn’t hurt anyone. If it makes the devout feel good, while doing no harm, then “so what”. To the point: If prayer itself isn’t being protested, then what is? Remember that line from the First Amendment: “Congress shall pass no laws respecting the establishment of religion”. Congress passed a law requiring the President to “establish” a National Day of prayer. Secularists of all stripes therefore celebrate the National Day of Reason as a counter and protest to the Congressionally established National Day of Prayer – same day, same time, every year. Politically speaking, history is very clear: When religion dominates politics, minorities and dissenters suffer greatly. The question we should be asking is, “How will we in America know when true religious freedom is attained?” The answer is simple. Freedom of religion is fully realized when ALL religions, AND the greatest religious freedom of all – the Freedom From Religion – simultaneously enjoy equal treatment, equal protection and equal standing under the law.
D G Van Curen
President, Humanists Of Idaho