WASHINGTON, D.C.—Today may be the National Day of Prayer for some, but on May 5, secular groups are praising a proclamation Representative Pete Stark (D-CA) entered into the congressional record today recognizing May 5 as the National Day of Reason. The proclamation resulted from collaboration between Rep. Stark and the Secular Coalition for America, the leading national lobby for secular Americans.
"Reason and rational thinking have made our country great," Rep. Stark's proclamation stated. "The Constitution of the United States of America is based upon the philosophies developed during the historical Age of Reason and the idea that citizens engaging in rational discourse and decision-making can govern themselves. The Constitution also contains a strong separation of church and state, making it clear that government should continue to be built on reason."
The full proclamation can be found here.
The National Day of Reason has been celebrated since 2003 as a more inclusive alternative to the divisive and congressionally mandated National Day of Prayer. The National Day of Reason, according to Stark's resolution, "is also about taking time to improve our communities—whether that means holding a blood drive or collecting items for the local food bank. It is also about ensuring that our government represents citizens of all beliefs and backgrounds."
The day's celebration is perhaps all the more important in light of the news having surfaced yesterday that less than half of America's eighth graders taking the National Assessment of Educational Progress test knew the meaning and purpose of the Bill of Rights, and only one in 10 understood the constitutional system of checks and balances between the three branches of government. Perhaps worse, only one-quarter of the tested high school seniors were able to identify a simple analysis of the effects of America's foreign policy on other nations, nor pick from four choices a constitutional power granted to Congress.
On the other hand, on a recent Pew Research Center study of Americans' religious knowledge, atheists and agnostics scored a higher number of correct answers (average 20.9) than did members or any religion of the 32 questions asked. Moreover, a 2007 poll by the First Amendment Center found that 65 percent of Americans believe the founders intended the U.S. to be a Christian nation and 55 percent thought the US Constitution establishes the U.S. as a Christian nation when in fact the word "Christian" appears nowhere in that document.
Similarly, 12 percent of Americans believe that Joan of Arc was Noah's wife, while three-quarters believe the Bible teaches that "God helps those who help themselves"—when in fact, that was Benjamin Franklin.
"The Secular Coalition for America has a great appreciation for the continued work Representative Stark has done to promote reason and secular values on Capitol Hill," said Sean Faircloth, executive director of the Secular Coalition for America, who spoke today at a National Day of Reason event on the North Carolina State Capitol grounds in Raleigh. "By encouraging Americans to employ reason and perform good deeds in their community, this proclamation embodies values that all Americans can rally behind – not simply those who pray or believe in a god."
"The National Day of Reason has truly taken off," said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association, an SCA member organization. "Through National Day of Reason activities such as volunteer work, charity events, and open-forum discussions, it's self-evident that you don't have to believe in God to be a good person, and you don't have to adhere to a divisive tradition such as the National Day of Prayer."
The Secular Coalition for America is a 501(c)4 organization that serves as the national lobby for atheists, humanists, freethinkers, and other nontheistic Americans. Composed of 10 diverse member organizations, SCA works to protect and strengthen the secular character of our government as the best guarantee of freedom for all.