NOW, THEREFORE I, George W. Bush, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the power vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim Thursday, the 1st day of May, 2003, a NATIONAL DAY OF REASON, and encourage all citizens, residents, and visitors to join in observing this day and focus upon the employ of reason, critical thought, the scientific method, and free inquiry to resolve human problems and care for the welfare of humankind. 2
He declined to proclaim the Day of Reason.
As of 2003-APR-1, the Day of Reason has been endorsed by 27 organizations: Washington Area Secular Humanists, American Humanist Association, Institute for Humanist Studies, Frederick Secular Humanists, Minnesota Atheists, Americans for Religious Liberty, Secular Humanists of the Low Country, Secular Humanists and Atheists of Lehigh Valley, Council for Secular Humanism, Atheist Station, Humanists of Montgomery County, Humanists of Los Angeles, New Orleans Secular Humanist Association, Humanists of North Puget Sound, Tri State Secular Humanists, South Carolina Progressive Network, Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix, Great Lakes Humanist Society, Humanist Community of Tucson, Humanists of Prescott, ULC of Kalamzoo, Corvallis Secular Society, Atheist Alliance International, Humanists of Greater Cincinnati, Secular Coalition for America, SecularLife.org, Houston Atheists, and Upstate SC Secular Humanists. By 2005-MAY, the list had grown to 90 groups. It has also been endorsed many hundreds of individuals.
Reaction to the National Day of Prayer:
The National Day of Reason (NDR) is a reaction to the annual National Day of Prayer (NDP) which is authorized by Federal statute. The NDP was originally conceived as an partly-inclusive celebration for the approximately 85% of Americans who believe in a personal deity or deities who respond to prayer. This would include most followers of monotheistic religions: conservative Christians, liberal Christians, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, and perhaps Deists. It had included believers in duotheistic religions, such as Wicca and Zoroastrianism, as well as polytheistic and henotheistic religions, such as most Aboriginal traditions, some Buddhist groups, Hindus, etc.
However, the Day appears to have been monopolized by a conservative Christian group who have converted it into a conservative-Christian-only observance. It is now coordinated by an evangelical Christian group the National Day of Prayer Task Force which is closely affiliated with the Fundamentalist Christian advocacy group Focus on the Family. A Nationally Broadcast Concert of Prayer (NBCOP) is broadcast over a network of conservative Christian television and radio stations and over the Internet on the evening of the Day of Prayer.
Thus, the NDP has was originally divisive, and has become more so, because it divides Americans between:
Constitutionality of a NDP and/or a NDR law or proclamation:
The 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court, guarantees that:
These two principles are continuously in a state of creative tension. Many Americans feel that prayer forms part of their religious expression; thus they want their children to pray in school, their school board and municipal council to pray before it holds a meeting, law courts to post the 10 commandments, the Federal government to proclaim a NDP, etc. Others, including the U.S. Supreme Court, feel that a wall of separation must be maintained between religion and the government and its agencies.
Thus, the U.S. constitution appears to prohibit:
The "American Center for Law and Justice" prepared a special bulletin in anticipation of restrictions by schools and government bodies of NDP observances. 3Section VI of that bulletin appears to contain some errors. It states that students are free to engage in prayer and other religious speech at any time and location within the school, as long as it does not interfere with school discipline. That would imply that student initiated spoken prayer in the classroom is constitutionally permitted. It is not.
1. Proclaiming the National Day of Prayer, alone:
The Supreme Court has issued many decisions in recent years which clarify the range of allowable government involvement in religion. The act which proclaims the National Day of Prayer appears to be unconstitutional for many reasons. It promotes the concepts that:
On 2010-APR-15, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb in Wisconsin ruled that the government proclamation of the National Day of Prayer was unconstitutional because such proclamation amounts to a call for religious action. 4
This ruling had zero effect on the NDP observance, since:
Anyway, almost exactly one year later, the ruling of Federal District Judge Crabb was unanimously overturned on a technicality by a three judge panel of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. They did not rule on the constitutionality of the government proclamation of the NDP. Instead, they reversed the lower court's decision after finding that the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) -- the group that initiated the original lawsuit -- did not have standing to do so. 4 Again, many of the religious and secular news sources misreported the ruling by stating that it was the NDP itself and not the proclamation of the NDP that was found to be constitutional. The FFRF is seeking a rehearing by the entire appeals court. FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor condemned the appeals court decision as cowardly. She said it is clear that had the appeals court panel ruled on the merits instead of throwing the case out on standing, FFRF would have won, as it did in federal district court. She said:
2. Proclaiming both a National Day of Prayer, and a National Day of Reason:If the President, and/or Congress, were to proclaim both Days, then their action might possibly be determined by the courts to be constitutional. The executive and/or legislative branches of government would then not be recognizing:
because they would be recognizing both a religious and a secular observance simultaneously. It would be an interesting constitutional challenge.
3. Proclaiming only a National Day of Reason:If the President, and/or Congress, were to proclaim a NDR but not a NDP, then their action should be regarded by the courts as constitutional. The executive and/or legislative branches of government would then be recognizing the role of reason in science, government, medicine, other types of research, news reporting, in people's personal affairs, and in countless other areas of life.
The chances of a National Day of Reason being proclaimed by the government in the foreseeable future are extremely slim, since it would be seen by many people as a negation of the National Day of Prayer. Recall that about 75% of Americans identify themselves as Christian while only 14% do not follow any organized religion. With the former dropping slowly, and the latter increasing over ½ percentage points per year, such a dual observance is probably inevitable, if current trends continue as they have in other Christian (or formerly Christian) countries. But, don't look for it any time soon.
This topic continues in Part 2
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