Local religious skeptics, determined to undermine the May 5 celebration of the National Day of Prayer, have established a day of their own – the National Day of Reason.
The non-theists of the North Carolina Triangle Freethought Society have constructed a full day’s schedule of speeches, musical performances and social events meant to rival the many local and national prayer events being held in conjunction with NDOP.
“The goal of this effort is to celebrate reason … and to raise public awareness about the persistent threat to religious liberty posed by government intrusion into the private sphere of worship,” NDOR organizers state on their website.
However, NDOP organizers assert that the annual event, initially enacted by Congress in 1952, is not an intrusion but rather a continuation of a longstanding American tradition.
“Since the days of our founding fathers, prayer has been an indispensible part of our heritage,” said NDOP Task Force Communications Director Michael Calhoun in a statement.
Calhoun said the nation’s tradition of prayer is more important now given the current global and national challenges. “We must remain faithful in our commitment to intercede on behalf of our nation and its leaders.”
Faith-based organizations have expressed a shared commitment with the NDOP task force to promote a continued national day for prayer. Christian legal group Alliance Defense Fund affirmed that observances of the annual tradition are completely "constitutional" and "appropriate."
The assurances inflamed atheist groups such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation which tried unsuccessfully to hinder the national prayer day through the legal system.
In a 3-0 ruling, the 7th U.S. Court of Appeals, located in Chicago, decided last month the Wisconsin-based atheist and agnostic group lacked the legal standing to challenge the National Day of Prayer. The decision overturned U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb’s 2010 ruling determining that the day of prayer violates the separation of church and state.
Undaunted by the legal loss, FFRF has sent out at least four letters to government leaders in Utah, Indiana, Georgia and Michigan urging them not attend prayer events.
"Promotion of prayer by elected officials unfortunately raises the distasteful appearance of political pandering to appeal to or appease a vocal Christian evangelical constituency," wrote FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Market.
ADF Senior Counsel Kevin H. Theriot has also sent out letters encouraging local government leaders, “You are free to proclaim your support for this event, and you are under no obligation to satisfy the demands of any disgruntled individual or civil libertarian group that may oppose such action."
The Triangle Freethought Society’s Day of Reason appears to be a last-ditch effort to divert attention away from NDOP.
The Day of Reason’s schedule includes several speeches from atheist, agnostic and humanist leaders with titles such as "Coming Out as an Atheist and Humanist" and "How to Protect a Secular America" at a rally at the State Capitol grounds in Raleigh. After lunch, there are scheduled visits to the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.
Meanwhile, the NDOP website shows that there will be well over 10 prayer events at North Carolina churches, hotels and flags in the communities surrounding the Freethought Society’s rally. These events feature outdoor prayer sessions, prayer breakfasts and luncheons, and youth rallies.
Additionally, the 24 Hour National Day of Prayer Webcast will be streaming videos of NDOP observances from churches and Christian ministries around the country online.
In the nation’s capital, NDOP celebrations will include speeches from Day of Prayer leader Shirley Dobson, artist Joni Eareckson Tada, and freshman Congressman Allen West (R- Fla.) as well as musical performances by Ginny Owens and Jared Anderson.