Who Else Opposes
'National Day Of Prayer'?
Linda Stein

From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Linda Stein"
Subject: Re: "National Day Of Prayer"? What Madison Thought
Date: Wednesday, May 03, 2000 6:19 AM

I'm sure there are others, but this is the material that I had available to me when I put together the dispatch. I tossed the dispatch together in about twenty minutes after reading the Madison piece in a book, knowing that I have written about NDOP almost every year. At the time, Bobbi had just arrived, and we had about an hour to get something to eat before we went singing.

Conrad Goreinger sends his dispatch several times a week, and so he has the luxury of covering it in detail. Also, at the prompting of several activists (including myself), American Atheists has begun to organize and stage openly visible protests against the more blatant examples of this abuse of power (which is also a vulgarization of religion, if you ask me). AA is no longer the vitriolic anti-religion force that it was while Madalyn was still alive. Now, they work for the rights and dignity of the nonreligious, in the face of the religious intrusions that most of us -- including many faithful -- find (at minimum) very embarrassing.

John Dearing, of Corvallis Secular Society, is a prolific writer of editorials to the papers and letters to public servants, and he has written Kitzhaber (who signed a proclamation last year) and just tonight wrote his mayor (see below).

I have never known [Portland Mayor Vera] Katz to honor NDOP or National Bible Week, although Kitzhaber did declare Christian Heritage Month four or five years ago. Methinks such activities serve merely to toss a bone to the barking Christian activists, to keep them quiet for a while. As much respect as I have for the Governor, I cannot fathom any other explanation for his doing this.

Interestingly, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State and Freedom From Religion Foundation are silent on it this year, though I know they have discussed it in the past. I expect a dispatch from AU this Thursday, although Goeringer and I have agreed that it is best to give the activists on our lists advance warning of improtant matters, so we try to get our material out early. This has grown from a friendly complaint several years ago about a last-minute notice that it even was NDOP to organizing rallies across the nation. Yes: we are organizing, but it is a slow process, and other organizations (with very limited resources) are working round the clock to fight the more serious erosions of Jefferson's Wall, such as the dozens of school voucher programs popping up around the country.

The ACLU would likely take on a case against an official that uses her or his office to promote a religious ritual (such as happened in Arizona a year or two ago), but that would only be after the fact, not before. The ACLU seldom sends advanced warnings, though it has been known to just that when they think it is crucial (i.e., a clear-cut case) or when they think it will do some good.

Unfortunately, the case against NDOP is not cut and dried. If they can get nonspecific enough (such as the "In God We Trust" motto) they can slip it through even to the Supreme Court level, and there's not much we can do about it. The idea is intact, and has been since the Constitution was ratified in 1787, but never has there been an absolute wall separating state from church -- and never has the opposition ceased their tireless efforts to erode or eliminate that wall. Thinking that way would be akin to thinking that the laws giving pedestrians the right-of-way in the crosswalk physically prevents automobiles from running over them. No. Just as we pedestrians must look both ways before crossing (even when the light is green), we Americans must constantly work to uphold our Constitutional Liberties "guaranteeing" our freedom of -- and from -- religion.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

Dear City Manager Nelson, Mayor Berg, Councilor Peters, Commissioner Adams, Commissioner Modrell, and Commissioner Speaker:

I urge you, the leaders of the governments of the City of Corvallis and of Benton County, to not lend your official support to any local observance of a "National Day of Prayer". When acting in an official capacity, no government official should be involved in such a religious observance. No publicly-owned facility should be provided for public religious activities. Section 5 of the Constitution of Oregon forbids spending public money in support of religion. Truly, holding a religious rally on, say, the grounds of a courthouse, intertwines our secular government with sectarian interests.

Religious practices should be held on private property, such as in the many churches in the area. If government leaders attend, it should be only as private citizens.

To further explain my concerns, I have included below a copy of a letter I sent to Governor Kitzhaber last year objecting to his proclamation, which said in part that Oregonians have a responsibility to pray!

In our increasingly-diverse community, the need for government neutrality toward religion is becoming even more important.

John S. Dearing

May 4, 1999

The Honorable John A. Kitzhaber
Governor of Oregon
254 State Capitol
Salem OR 97310

Dear Governor Kitzhaber:

I am writing you on behalf of the members of Corvallis Secular Society to protest your proclamation of a prayer day in Oregon.

According to the National Day of Prayer Website, on January 28 of this year you signed a proclamation declaring Thursday, May 6, 1999, to be "National Prayer Day" in Oregon, and encouraging all Oregonians to join in this observance. Your proclamation states in part, "...it has [sic] the...responsibility of citizens to pray..."! Our responsibility? Neither you nor any governmental official in the nation, acting in your official capacity, has any business declaring a day of prayer! No government official has the right to declare what is orthodox in religious or nonreligious belief or observance. Our state and national governments are legally and morally bound to keep church and state separate. I remind you that the body of our nation's Constitution mentions religion only once, where it negates the role of religion in the public life. ("[Government officials] shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.")

Thomas Jefferson addressed this issue: "I consider the government of the United States as interdicted by the Constitution from intermeddling with religious institutions, their doctrine, discipline, or exercises... Fasting and prayer are religious exercises; the enjoying of them is an act of religious discipline. Every religious society has a right to determine for itself the time for these exercises, and the objects proper to them, according to its own Peculiar tenets; and this right can never be safer than in their own hands, where the Constitution has deposited it. Civil powers alone have been given to the President of the United States, and he has no authority to direct the religious exercises of his constituents."

If you still think pronouncing May 6 to be a prayer day is appropriate, or is at least innocuous, I ask you to perform a brief "thought experiment". In your official capacity as Governor of the State of Oregon, would you sign a proclamation declaring a certain day a "Day of Nonprayer"? In this proclamation, you would recognize the fact that "nothing fails like prayer", and you would declare it is the responsibility of Oregonians to not pray, but rather to work to bring about their goals. I don't think you would sign such a proclamation; yet, conceptually, it is identical to the proclamation you did sign.

Governor Kitzhaber, please respect the rights of religious minorities and of nonreligious people; please uphold our federal and state constitutions; please do not declare another prayer day in Oregon.

Sincerely,

John S. Dearing, president
Corvallis Secular Society

Copy: Phil Keisling, Oregon Secretary of State; 136 State Capitol; Salem OR 97310-0722.

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