One summer when I was in college, I worked for a tiny lobbying firm, most of whose clients were disease-related. If the firm wasn't able to get you increased funding for research into your disease, at the very least it could get a friendly member of Congress to introduce a proclamation about it. Framed on the office walls were documents declaring the first week in June to be Copious Earwax Awareness Week or November to be Toenail Fungus Month.
The government declares lots of national days of this and weeks of that, most of which go unnoticed. Today, however, is the National Day of Prayer, in which, that pesky establishment clause notwithstanding, the federal government encourages you to get down on your knees and implore your deity to deliver whatever you happen to lack, or to be merciful toward those he might otherwise smite. Don't confuse it with the National Prayer Breakfast; that's an entirely separate national prayer event. Here's Barack Obama's proclamation of the day, though beyond that I don't think the government is doing much to honor it. That slack is picked up by the quasi-official National Day of Prayer Task Force, a decidedly evangelical Christian group chaired by Shirley Dobson, wife of James Dobson. This year's honorary chair is California megachurch pastor Greg Laurie, whose participation led to protests from gay-rights groups unhappy with Laurie's particular view of sin and sexuality. Laurie will be leading prayer events on Capitol Hill and the Pentagon today. The theme of this year's events is "Pray for America," the message being that everything is pretty much going to hell (so to speak) in our country, and the only thing that can get us back on the right track is Jesus.
In the face of all this government sponsorship of prayer, the rather less influential secular humanist movement has declared today the National Day of Reason. They had to declare it themselves, because unlike the National Day of Prayer, the government wasn't going to get involved with them. So feel free, if you swing that way, to take a moment today to consider all that reason and science have done for us.
I'll stop before my impulse to snark gets the better of me, but I would like to note something for my religious friends, especially the Christians: Next time you want to say you're "oppressed" because people are saying that there may be a few areas we can keep religion out of, like science class, or that it might be better not to assume that everyone is a Christian but instead be sensitive to people who believe in gods other than yours or no god at all, consider that those of us who don't believe in an almighty deity tolerate stuff like the National Day of Prayer all the time. We don't much like it, but we almost always just let it slide. The government makes our kids stand up and declare that we're "one nation, under God,"11Yes, technically kids in public schools don't have to say the Pledge of Allegiance if they don't want to, but peer pressure being what it is, few feel comfortable abstaining. our money says "In God We Trust," Congress starts every day with a prayer, and official sponsorship of religious events is everywhere. On the other hand, while there are lots of places where discussion of people's religious beliefs is excluded, there is nowhere—nowhere—where the government explicitly affirms and honors the beliefs of those who don't believe in god. There's no government-sponsored "There Is No God Day" with White House proclamations and Pentagon gatherings.
And that's as it should be. It's not government's job to tell you it agrees with your metaphysical views. Or at least it shouldn't be.
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