Hallelujah! Thursday is the U.S.' yearly day of prayer. Though the sequester continues, Syrians continue to die, and the immigration bill languishes, our federal government asks local, state, and national governments to set aside taxpayer-funded time to ... pray. Though this may actually accomplish more than our current Congress does, if you're anything like me, you're both perturbed and confused by Thursday's celebration. But you're not alone.
The National Day of Prayer has been around since 1952, when President Truman signed it into law. Though the Supreme Court explicitly ruled in 1962's Engel v. Vitale that prayer in public schools was constitutionally inappropriate, there are those in the government who insist federal funds should be continued to be used to promote specific methods of worship. Constitutional jurisprudence continued to favor separation with 1963's Abington School District v. Schempp, but obviously, there are still those who want our government to tell us to pray.
The National Day of Reason is a way for those of us without supernatural friends to emphasize what we believe is important for a healthy society: skepticism, reason, and a continued commitment to the separation of church and state. While NDOP supporters argue their day is excusable because it specifies no particular religion, this misses the point: "interfaith" events like NDOP are inherently exclusive, as they ostracize those who don't believe in the supernatural.
It is clear that this distinction is used to divide us. After the recent Boston Marathon bombings, the government-sponsored interfaith service, attended by the President, included no humanist or atheist groups. No wonder atheists are still the most distrusted minority in America.
Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx, recently nominated by President Obama to become the next secretary of transportation, issued his second annual proclamation of the national day of reason. Foxx's call reminds skeptics everywhere that there are, in fact, nonbelievers other than former Representative Pete Stark (D-Calif.) in our government. And now that Stark has left Congress, it is more important than ever that skeptics know it is okay to be open about their unwillingness to bow to superstition.
So if you're not a fan of any of these or other gods, take heart in the fact that you're not the only one sitting today's celebration of wishful thinking. Even if you do celebrate NDOP, you can still appreciate some of the values that ensure our greatest freedoms — dedication to reason, secular government, and the freedom to worship, or not, as you please. Our "separation" of church and state may seem weak these days, but there are more and more of us who firmly believe two hands working can do more than a million clasped in prayer.