(Photo: American Humanist Association)
Two groups that represent a large percentage of atheists, the American Humanist Association and the Secular Coalition of America, are joining forces to combat the National Day of Prayer by promoting the National Day of Reason, which is held on the first Thursday of May each year.
Rep. Pete Stark, a California Democrat, has sponsored a proclamation on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives for the second year in a row giving his support to the cause and as an alternative for atheist Americans to celebrate "reason," as opposed to prayer. Stark's proclamation reads in part:
"Our nation faces many problems – bringing our troops home from Afghanistan, creating jobs, educating our children, and protecting our safety net from irresponsible cuts. We will solve these issues through the application of reason. We must also protect women's reproductive choices, the integrity of scientific research, and our public education system from those who would hide behind religious dogma to undermine them."
It is no coincidence organizers of the two groups chose the first Thursday in May – the same day as the National Day of Prayer – to celebrate their cause. But while one is a national holiday, the other is a day chosen by groups to celebrate a different set of beliefs.
"The National Day of Prayer demeans millions of Americans who believe that reason, not prayer, is the way to solve the country's problems," Maggie Ardiente, director of Communications for the American Humanist Association, told The Christian Post via email.
However, the National Day of Prayer website says the day is neither exclusively Christian or political. "This government-proclaimed day is offered to all Americans, regardless of religion, to celebrate their faith through prayer. The National Day of Prayer, as designated by our government, belongs to all Americans. It is not sponsored or owned by any one group. Every American can observe the NDP in his or her own way."
Speaking on behalf of the Christian Coalition, board member Billy McCormack described the National Day of Reason as "simply a blatant assault on Christianity."
"Secular fundamentalists believe in and serve their god called 'reason' and want the nation to equate it with the Lord Jesus Christ," McCormack told CP via email. "France bowed to the god of reason when it adopted its Constitution. Our forefathers founded a Christian nation based on the teachings of Jesus. The difference is plain."
The history of the National Day of Prayer can be traced back to 1775 when the Continental Congress first asked the colonies to pray for wisdom in forming a new nation. The day was first officially recognized in 1952 when President Harry S. Truman signed into law a proclamation for an annual day of prayer.
In 1988, President Ronald Reagan designated the National Day of Prayer to fall on the first Thursday in May.
But in a response to what some considered an overtly "Christian" movement, the National Day of Reason began in 2003 when the coalition of atheist and humanist organizations decided to offer some Americans another alternative.
Lauren Anderson Youngblood, a spokesperson for the Secular Coalition for America, says the day is mainly about raising awareness and making everyone feel included.
"There are a number of laws – many at the state level – that are threatening religious liberty and the separation of religion and government," Youngblood told The Christian Post. "We're not specifically against prayer, yet we wanted to offer an alternative so that many Americans would not feel like second class citizens on a day when the nation is told to pray."
Instead of praying, those who observe the National Day of Reason are encouraged to spend the day performing community service projects of other works-based tasks.
According to the National Day of Reason website, there are 18 events that are taking place across the country on May 3, ranging from a group gathering for lunch in Raleigh, N.C., to a group in Savannah, Ga., that will openly protest the National Day of Prayer.
Brian Magee, a communications associate with the American Humanist Association, said there were many more events scheduled on Thursday but due to a website crash most were lost and not on the organization's website.
A comparative search on the National Day of Prayer website listed hundreds of events all over the nation. For example, when Memphis, Tenn., was entered, it showed 15 events ranging from services at various churches to an event called "Occupy South Memphis for Christ on NDP," which is known as a poverty-stricken area of the city with a high rate of crime and unwed mothers.
According to National Day of Prayer Task Force spokesperson, there are "tens of thousands" of events nationwide that are held in conjunction with the National Day of Prayer.