Humanists push for a National Day of Reason


Source: RNS

Kimberly Winston is a freelance religion reporter based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She covers atheism and freethought for RNS.

(RNS) Not all Americans pray.

So the American Humanist Association, among the largest national advocacy groups of nonbelievers and other secularists, wants the first Thursday in May to be recognized by Congress as a National Day of Reason.

But that day is already designated as the National Day of Prayer, with a 65-year history of support from Congress, state and local governments and every sitting president since its inception in 1952.

And that, says Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association, is the problem.

“This is government recognition of prayer and that is wrong, no matter how you look at it,” Speckhardt said. “Having a National Day of Reason on the same day says this is an example of a day the government can endorse that doesn’t exclude people based on their answers to a religious question.”

There is little indication the humanists will get their wish. A proposal to create a National Day of Reason went nowhere in Congress last year; this year’s proposal is stalled in committee.

Still, there is some evidence that support for it is picking up and that nontheism is shedding its reputation as the so-called third rail of American politics:

  • Three sitting U.S. representatives (California’s Mike Honda and Judy Chu and Washington, D.C., nonvoting delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton) sponsored this year’s resolution —  more than in any other year. Honda identifies as a Protestant.
  • Last year, governors in three states (Iowa, Nebraska and Delaware) issued proclamations designating a Day of Reason concurrently with the National Day of Prayer. Iowa will mark the day again this year as well.
  • President Obama’s 2015 National Day of Prayer proclamation acknowledged Americans who “practice no faith at all.”
  • Groups from San Diego to Portland, Maine, have held commemorations, picnics, talks, blood drives and other special events since 2011.

But with national days recognizing religious freedom, the Wright brothers and even recycling, does this country need a National Day of Reason? And why must it be on the same day as the National Day of Prayer, created by President Harry S. Truman and supported by religious groups of all stripes?

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