Sunday, May 1, 2016

“The National Day of Prayer," and Reason?

Representative from California’s 17th District known as Silicon Valley, Michael Honda (D), the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and numerous secularist organizations are fighting to have “National Day of Reason” on the same day this year that “National Day of Prayer” falls. Congressman Mike Honda introduced House Resolution (H. Res.) 670, which would officially name May 5th of this year as a “National Day of Reason” to counter the existing “National Day of Prayer.” The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is currently debating H. Res. 670. To be clear, Congressman Mike Honda does not intend for the “National Day of Reason” to be in opposition to the “National Day of Prayer,” but rather, “another way for people to think about one of the fundamental forces that built this nation.” The Founding Founders set out to build a system that could accommodate a multitude of different groups and interests while facilitating collective action. This constitutional framework also safeguards the existence of an array of of religious (and nonreligious) traditions. The United States is a cultural mosaic, and the purpose of this resolution is to recognize the significance of reason in the advancement of humankind.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, the largest American non-profit organization advocating for atheists, is rallying support for Congressman Mike Honda. The organization posted on its website that “National Day of Reason” is for “all citizens, residents, and visitors to join in observing this day and focusing upon the employment of reason, critical thought, the scientific method, and free inquiry to the resolution of human problems and for the welfare of humankind.” Furthermore, the nationally recognized day would fall on the same day as the “National Day of Prayer” to counter the unconstitutional endorsement of Christianity through the initial creation of that day. The “National Day of Prayer” is obviously unconstitutional because Reverend Billy Graham initiated it in 1952 with the purpose of “the Lord Jesus Christ” being acknowledged across the nation, which resulted in the president declaring an annual nationally recognized day. During the 1980s, two religious organizations, the National Day of Prayer Task Force and the Focus on the Family, collaborated with one another to communicate to Christian communities their mission to spread the message of personal repentance and prayer nationwide. Although the Freedom From Religion Foundation previously challenged this day in 2008 and even won a ruling in 2010, the 7th Circuit United States Court of Appeals held that the organization did not have standing to sue. The organization believes that the resolution would create an all-inclusive day of celebration for Americans. Annie Laurie Gaylor, Co-President of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, told a news and opinion publication that the “National Day of Prayer” is just one of many unconstitutional bills passed over fifty years ago. Others like it include the slogan “In God We Trust” on United States currency as well as the phrase “under God” recited in the Pledge of Allegiance. She stresses that the resolution is not intended to replace the already existing day bur rather to enhance it. Lastly, other opponents of the “National Day of Prayer,” such as the Washington Area Secular Humanists and the American Humanist Association who co-sponsor the National Day of Reason website, claim that the day makes those who do not pray feel like “second-class citizens.”

The house resolution raises two critical questions: (1) is the “National Day of Prayer” an
unconstitutional establishment of religion, and (2) if so, does the creation of the “National Day of Reason” on the same day fix the issue? I believe that a nationally recognized day of prayer is a blatant violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment because it is not neutral, or in other words, it does not treat religion and non-religion the same way. The “National Day of Prayer” serves as the unconstitutional governmental support of religion over non-religion. One may argue that although the day was created by Christians to spread the word of the Lord, there is no implication in the name “Day of Prayer” of governmental favoritism of a particular religious sect. As a result, it is religiously neutral. This may hold true, but it is still not neutral between religion and non-religion, which is the issue at hand. The word “prayer” is religious in nature because the act of prayer is an important and universal feature of religion. It is a primary mode of expression- prayer is to religion what reason is to philosophy. Prayer is an expression of human feelings and thoughts that bridge the gap between humans and the sacred or holy. The “National Day of
Prayer” serves absolutely no other purpose but to encourage religious practice. A reasonable observer would not see the law as anything other than a government endorsement of religion. 

I agree with the statement that the day makes those who do not pray feel like “second class citizens,” and that the day is unnecessarily exclusive. It is not the government’s place to enact a law for people to recognize the significance of prayer, much like it is not the government’s place to encourage people to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and all the Fridays of Lent, or to undertake a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in your lifetime. I believe that the creation of the “National Day of Reason” on May 5th would fix the unconstitutionality of the “National Day of Prayer” because both the religious and nonreligious would benefit. One may argue that adding the “National Day of Reason” to our calendars is simply diluting the still unconstitutional “National Day of Prayer.” I think that by getting rid of the “National Day of Prayer,” the government may be viewed as showing hostility toward religion. In order to avoid this inevitable criticism, the government can create another day of celebration for all those who are not religious. All forms of expression, from prayer to rational thought, will be celebrated annually on a day that is completely inclusive.    

1 comment:

Jim R said...

I agree with Natalie's statements. Simply replacing the National Day of Prayer with the National Day of Reason would only place the religious instead of the nonreligious in a position of a "second class citizen." However with the two working in tandem with each other, both groups of people have a choice to commemorate their beliefs towards a religious or scientific inspiration on May 5th. This choice also endorses the private lives of citizens rather than the public duty of citizens. Individuals are allowed in their private spheres to endorse whatever beliefs they wish.