Date: Tue, 23 Apr 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for April 23, 1996 nn nn A
Date: Tue, 23 Apr 1996 12:25:24 -0700
Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for April 23, 1996
Reply-To: firstname.lastname@example.org, AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net
nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn
#20 nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn 4/23/96
GOVERNMENT, CHURCHES SPREAD DISINFORMATION ON ''DAY OF PRAYER''
Atheists Urge President Clinton to Withdraw Unconstitutional
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
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
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.
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