More on the Day of Prayer

I’m a member of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and usually agree with them, but at times I think they overstate the case, as in their recent e-mail notice regarding the National Day of Prayer.

Their talking points for the National Day of Prayer are below, with my own comments:

Americans don’t need the government to tell them when or how to pray.

Agreed. However, I’m not sure that it’s true that “The NDP is problematic because it presumes that Americans should take direction on their religious lives from the government. It suggests that they will engage in certain religious activities because the government recommends they do.”

The National Day of Prayer has been hijacked by the Religious Right, which uses it to promote religious bigotry.

Yes. This is the core problem, and I have written about it on my blog . However, because an observance has been misused does not mean that it isn’t possible, or desirable, to work to change the nature of the observance, for example, by developing more inclusive way to join together.

The National Day of Prayer has become a vehicle for spreading misinformation about American history and society.

True. So how better to counter that misinformation than to insist on an inclusive observance which recognizes and honors religious diversity?

The National Day of Prayer is not historical.

What? Everything that has happened is historical. So what? Lots of important observations are relatively new inventions. The concern here is that it is being presented as if it were deeply imbedded in the history of the nation. That’s part of the distortions mentioned above.

The National Day of Prayer Is Unnecessary.

So is the Fourth of July. Or Memorial Day. Or Mothers Day. We don’t “need” official days to honor our nation, our dead, or our mothers. It just helps to set aside some time (the core meaning of the word “sacred”) devoted to those things.

Government should refrain from sponsoring religious worship. It would be best if the National Day of Prayer were ended entirely. If that is not possible, the event, at the very least, should be pried free from the suffocating grasp of the Religious Right.

The government surely needs to stay away from sponsoring religious observance, but I’m not sure that means abolishing the National Day of Prayer. However, I agree fully with the need to move it away from identification with a single group.

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