The Freedom From Religion Foundation, the largest national association of atheists and agnostics, which reached 10,000 members last month, says public officials should not issue proclamations of prayer or direct citizens to worship.
The National Day of Prayer was first inadvisably created by Congress in 1952. Under Reagan, legislation was passed designating the first Thursday of every May as "National Day of Prayer."
"A church-sponsored day of prayer would not be a problem," says Foundation co-president Dan Barker, "but it is inappropriate for the president and governors to be dictating that citizens pray."
"Prayer proclamations by public officials convey to nonreligious Americans that we are expected to believe in a god, and in the suspension of the natural laws of the universe through wishful thinking," notes Foundation co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor.
"Anything that blurs the line between church and state paves the way for public officials to further dishonor that constitutional principle. We commend the secularists, state/church advocates and freethinkers around the nation who are conducting counter-pickets and rallies to call attention to the inappropriateness of using public buildings, steps and courthouses to promote religion," Gaylor added.
Barker pointed out that the Religious Right has used the first Thursday in May as an organizing tool to intimidate public officials for many years.
Freethinkers believe in deeds, not creeds, added Barker, a former minister-turned-atheist. He cited the words of noted 19th century freethinker/attorney Robert Green Ingersoll:
"The hands that help are better far than lips that pray."
As an antidote to prayer, you may wish to tune in the Bill Moyer Show on PBS-TV on Friday, May 4. Moyer will be interviewing Jonathan Miller, host of the BBC 3-part series, "A Brief History of Unbelief." That documentary also will begin airing in some markets on March 4 and on subsequent dates on other areas. Check your local PBS listing.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., is a national association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics) that has been working since 1978 to keep church and state separate.