Date: Tue, 23 Apr 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for April 23, 1996 nn nn A

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Date: Tue, 23 Apr 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for April 23, 1996 from: Reply-To:, nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn #20 nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn 4/23/96 GOVERNMENT, CHURCHES SPREAD DISINFORMATION ON ''DAY OF PRAYER'' Atheists Urge President Clinton to Withdraw Unconstitutional Proclamation ++++++ With less than two weeks remaining, religious groups throughout the country are hard at work organizing some 12,000 events to coincide with the "National Day of Prayer." The event, considered by many to be an artifact of 1950's cold war rhetoric, was for many years a low-key celebration; recently, though, a variety of religious groups ranging from the Worldwide Church of God to more conservative-right organizations like American Family Association began promoting the event as part of a larger social-political agenda. Now, the National Day of Prayer is often marked by official proclamations from government leaders including the President, and religious rallies which take place on the steps of municiple buildings and even state capitols. Public officials are urged to participate in these events, a fact that has not gone un-noticed by state-church separation groups. Coordinating the event is a Colorado-based organization called National Day of Prayer Task Force with ties to James Dobson's "Focus on the Family." The group's executive director, Ken Waggoner, told Religious News Service that "prayers will be offered for the country, its governmental leaders and for racial and denominational reconcilitations. Other events include Bible-reading marathons and dramatic presentations about the importance of prayer." But there's more than religious exercise. Chris Allen, Utah Director of American Atheists and its parent group, Society of Separationists, told AANEWS that "The goal of the Task Force is not simply to promote prayer, but to mix government and religion, denying our First Amendment right to separation of state and church." Allen cited examples where public officials issue official proclamations making Day of Prayer a religious-political event, thus "prostituting themselves and their offices, some even leading sectarian religious rallies on public property." He also noted that the Task Force sends editorial articles promoting the Day of Prayer to all major newspapers, and "every year many are printed as straight news." Allen also claimed that the group also sends "Teacher's Packets full of religious propaganda to public schools for distribution." Clinton Proclamation -- Re-writing History? The build-up for this year' s event began on April 3, when President Clinton issued an official Proclamation designating Thursday, May 2 as the National Day of Prayer. The proclamation stated : "A National day of Prayer, first proclaimed by the Continental Congress in 1775, stems from the understanding that faith is a fundamental part of our Nation's social fabric. In an impassioned speech before the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Benjamin Franklin put the importance of prayer in perspective, proposing that '...prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its belssings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business...' And so it has been to this day in statehouses all over our great land." Mr. Allen, however, said that Clinton was "rationalizing his proclamation" and twisting the historical record. "Clinton cannot use that as an example because the real authors of our Constitution, inspired by Jefferson, explicitly voted against starting any meetings with prayer." He went to on to insist that "The National Day of Prayer is NOT an American tradition, but a recent innovation that began in 1952 during the religious hysteria of the Joe McCarthy era. Thomas Jefferson, the inventor of Separation of State and Church, would never have allowed this in his time." Allen added that Jefferson made a point of publicly refusing to declare any days of prayer, fasting or thanksgiving, and wrote that he did so as of way of underscoring what he meant by the First Amendment. (See "Jefferson's Letter to his Attorney General, Levi Lincoln, 1/1/1802). National Day of Prayer was also invented during a time in American history when symbolic gestures against "godless communism" were much a part of the political fabric. Congress declared that religious mottos such as "One Nation Under God" or "In God We Trust" be put on the nation's coinage and paper currency, and included in the Pledge of Allegiance. Allen had some advice for both Mr. Clinton (who often acknowledges his religious convictions) and the church groups boosting the National Day of Prayer event. "They should read their own Bible, especially Matthew 6: 5-6," he said. That passage reads: "And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. "But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy close, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; nd thy Father, which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly." -- From The Authorized King James Version, "Holy Bible" A Religious Nation? Other parts of the Clinton proclamation drew criticism from Ellen Johnson, President of American Atheists. She challenged the National Day of Prayer declaration which said "This occasion calls us to affirm our country's spiritual roots and to humbly express our gratitude to the source of our abundant good fortune." "What about separation of state and church?," asked Johnson. "Clinton is the president of all Americans, not just the religious. Nearly 10% of the nation's citizens are Atheists or people who have serious doubts concerning religion, and millions more agree with us that government should not be conducting a religious event like the National Day of Prayer." She said that American Atheists was calling on Clinton to withdraw his proclamation because it violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Meanwhile, Ron Barrier, the AA National Media Coordinator, said "This isn't the 1950's. Today, all of us, including President Clintom, should recognize the diversity of American society." Barrier noted that "not all Americans choose to pray," and said that the decision to engage or not participate in religious events should be a private matter, "not the business of government." He added that American Atheists will be issuing a press release about the Day of Prayer, and urging its members to contact local, state and federal officials. Promoting "Official" Religious Heritage Many of the religious groups participating in the National Day of Prayer, especially those working with the DOP Task Force, have ties to the religious right, and work to promote the notion that America is a "religious" or "Christian" nation. Their efforts in recent years have paid off, especially since National Day of Prayer has attracted more attention from the media, government officials and the public. Included in the 12,000 scheduled events are rallies (complete with prayer and religious songs) at government buildings. Task Force members have lobbied mayors, council members, and state officials to declare a local or state version of the National Day of Prayer in their respective areas. Most of these declarations mimic the language in the National Proclamation signed by Clinton. M any promotional materials on behalf of the event, though, seek the re-affirm the image of the United States as a "Christian nation" with an admirable religious heritage. ****************** WHY WE DON'T NEED -- AND SHOULD NOT HAVE -- NATIONAL DAY OF PRAYER A Crash-Course in First Amendment State-Church Separation... * The Constitution guarantees both freedom of and freedom FROM religion; it guarantees religious exercise, but prohibits the "Establishment" of religion. Courts have interpreted (in cases like Lemon v. Kurtzman) this to mean that government may take no action which has as its primary purpose the advancement of religion, may not choose one religion over another, and may not engage in any action which involves "excessive entanglement" between state and church. * Just about ANY religious exercise ends up violating at least of the above strictures. The National Day of Prayer is pretty much a "Christian" even, with perhaps some token events for Jews. But America, besides being founded on the notion of church-state separation, also is based on religious pluralism. A segment of America embraces a range of diverse religions, everything from Christianity to Islam, Hinduism, Buudhism, Scientology, voodoo and others. Many Americans have no religious belief whatsoever; some surveys put this number at 10%, or nearly 25,000,000 who consider themselves to be Atheists, "rationalists," deists, "freethinkers," "humanists" or some other term. And the majority of Americans are branded with the pejorative label "un-churched", simply because they are not regular church attendees. * Is there evidence that there is any god or gods listening to the prayers, songs and other utterances made during National Day or Prayer? Which god(s)? The Christian deity? A Hindu god? Perhaps Allah? *Public officials have no business using public funds or facilities to promote religion. The efforts of the National Day of Prayer Task Force are clearly targeted at involving political figures and creating the public impression of a "Government seal of approval" on religious exercise; hence, the enthusiasm for conducting DOP events on the steps of municiple city halls and other government meeting houses. Many DOP Task Force enthusiasts seek to "link" government and religion into a seemless entity. * The National Day of Prayer is based upon faulty history, a kind of pop-culture "Christian Revisionism" which emphasizes religious superstition, and ignores the admonitions of men like James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and others who warned against the co-mingling of state and church. Day of Prayer is simply the latest in a long line of strategies going back to the 18th century to have America declared "A Christian nation," despite Jefferson's intent to construct a "Wall of Separation" between church and state. Today, religious conservatives target the "Wall" using questionable legal and historical arguments. Supreme Court Justice William Rhenquist has stated that the "Wall of separation" is a "myth." * President Clinton is pandering to the religious right in declaring this event. As a representative of ALL the people, he should take into account the diversity of religious and non-religious opinion in contemporary America. His action excludes millions of Americans who are productive citizens, yet see no need for prayer or religious ritual. ****** ON-LINE RESOURCES FROM AMERICAN ATHEISTS... For information about American Atheists: e-mail Be sure to include your name, mailing address and zip code. * aachat is a moderated discussion forum for members of American Atheists. To participate, contact Margie Wait, LISTMASTER through * Coming soon... the American Atheists Web Site. Learn about Atheism, state-church separation and the history of American Atheists. Keep up-to-date on our latest actrivities! You'll even be able to order from our on-line Catalogue. Sorry,no gratuitous naked bodies -- but we will have a section on Atheist humor! AANEWS is distributed as a service of American Atheists, a nationwide movement founded by Madalyn Murray O'Hair for the advancement of Atheism, and the total, absolute separation of government and religion. For information on subscribing, send e-mail to:, and put "info aanews" in the body of the message. You may quote, forward or reproduce this dispatch, provided that credit is given to American Atheists and aanews. Edited and written by Conrad Goeringer, The LISTMASTER.


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