(CNSNews.com) – An atheist group is calling on President Obama to ditch the National Day of Prayer and formally recognize its own “non-theist” version called “The National Day of Reason.”
Last week, a federal judge in Madison, Wis., ruled that the law designating the first Thursday in May to be the National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional because, the judge said, it negatively impacts non-believers.
A White House spokesman indicated last Friday, however, that President Obama will formally recognize the May 6 observance of the National Day of Prayer with a proclamation because the judge’s order barring the observance would not take effect until after the appeals process had been exhausted.
But the Washington, D.C.-based American Humanist Association is urging the president to recognize instead the “National Day of Reason” -- the atheist movement’s “response” to the National Day of Prayer.
“The National Day of Reason includes all Americans and calls attention to a value that’s essential to effective democracy,” said David Niose, president of the American Humanist Association.
Also scheduled to be held on the first Thursday in May, the National Day of Reason is a day in which events are held across the United States in order to commemorate reason.
The humanist group praised last week’s ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Barbara B. Crabb that the 1952 statute creating the National Day of Prayer was unconstitutional because its “sole purpose is to encourage all citizens to engage in prayer, an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function” – to quote from the judge’s ruling.
“The government should not be directing citizens to pray. In addition to being unconstitutional, it’s also especially offensive to people who don’t believe in a god and are made to feel excluded by the observance,” AHA Executive Director Roy Speckhardt said.
Those defending the National Day of Prayer, however, say that even if an atheist were to be recognized, that would not justify ending public recognition for National Day of Prayer.
“The American Humanist Association and their allied groups have every right to try to promote a new celebration if they want to -- and if they can persuade people to participate voluntarily, that’s fine, but I don’t think they have a right to do away with a long-standing tradition that is deeply rooted in our nation’s history – which is calling the people to prayer,” Peter Sprigg, senior fellow for policy studies at the Family Research Council, told CNSNews.com.
The National Day of Prayer is actually quite “inclusive,” Spriggs argued.
“It’s inclusive of the vast majority of Americans, who do believe in a Supreme Being and who do pray, and it is inclusive of the vast majority of Americans throughout the history of our country – and the vast majority of the leaders of our country though our history,” Spriggs said.
He noted that the statute that established the National Day of Prayer simply calls on the president to annually designate a day in which the people of the United States may “turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups and as individuals." It does not require people to pray, he noted.
“It is clear that a nondenominational day of prayer does not violate the First Amendment – does not constitute an ‘establishment of religion,’” Sprigg said. “And there’s no reason in the world that the president should have to shift from a ‘day of prayer’ to a ‘day of reason.’”
In 1988, President Reagan signed a bill amending the law to designate the first Thursday in May as the annual National Day of Prayer.
Spriggs pointed out that numerous presidents – both Democrats and Republicans -- have either called on the nation to pray or to seek divine favor.
“Judge Crabb was inferring that she found something in the Constitution that every President and Congress since 1775 has not: a hostile treatment of religion in public life.
"While this is one of many instances in which the courts have tried to banish God from the public square, this case reveals a level of supreme arrogance.
"We call on Congress to start the impeachment proceedings for Barbara Crabb, as she violated her sacred oath of 'administering justice ... under the Constitution and laws of the United States.'
The case involving the National Day of Prayer is expected to go to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The American Humanist Association defines humanism as “the idea that you can be good without a belief in God.”