While believers in the United States observe a National Day of Prayer today, nonbelievers are embracing a National Day of Reason that encourages the use of reason, critical thinking, and science in solving the global problems of mankind.
A National Day of Prayer was proclaimed by George Washington shortly after the end of the Revolutionary War, and by Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. By law, it has been observed annually since 1952. Events scheduled for 2010 include an interfaith celebration in Delray Beach called, "Many Paths - One God," at the Duncan Conference Center, 15820 S. Military Trail, at 6:00 tonight. For the first time, Hinduism will be represented in tonight’s annual event that welcomes all people of all beliefs, prompting Devanathan Mahadevan of the South Florida Hindu Temple to say:
Water’s the same, whether we call it the Indian Ocean or the Atlantic Ocean. Same with the human being. We are going toward our own destiny. But we are going on different paths. Trying to understand each other, that is the only thing we need.
However, critics of the National Day of Prayer argue that these religious/spiritual gatherings do not need to be held in public settings or funded by taxpayer dollars, blurring the line between church and state. Almost 200 years ago, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison both opposed Presidential proclamations to pray because (in Madison’s words) they “seem to imply and certainly nourish the erroneous idea of a national religion.”
Today, the Florida Atheists and Secular Humanists (FLASH) are among many groups planning protests of prayer events funded by government money, and the Freedom from Religion Foundation has won its legal battle declaring the event unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb wrote, "... the government may not use its authority to try to influence an individual's decision whether and when to pray." (Appeals are being filed.) Many opponents of the National Day of Prayer are celebrating a National Day of Reason instead.
President Obama issued a proclamation that is open to all believers and nonbelievers, writing, “I call upon the citizens of our Nation to pray, or otherwise give thanks, in accordance with their own faiths and consciences, for our many freedoms and blessings."
I wish you a peaceful, interfaith National Day of Prayer and National Day of Reason! (And if you attend the Delray Beach event tonight, come find me and say hello!)