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National Day of Prayer: Fair or Foul?

On Thursday, May 2, 2002 believers all over the nation will gather to celebrate their faith through public prayer. There will be rallies, picnics, and speeches, but more than anything else, prayer. Theoretically, any religious observer with a belief in prayer is welcome to join in, but of course the different religions and denominations will each have their separate celebrations.

Perhaps you wonder what is wrong with this faith-filled gathering. Nothing, in and of itself. The religious, of course, are entitled to freedom of assembly the same as anyone else. The problem comes when you consider the nature of these gatherings, and who has declared them.

By both local and federal officials, May 2 has been declared a National Day of Prayer. Proclamations have been issued by the governor of the State of Oklahoma, Frank Keating, and also by the President himself, George Bush Jr. That's right. The highest officials of our state and our country have stepped forward to officially declare that Americans should take time out of their day on May 2 to pray.

The full text of these proclamations can be found online at NationalDayofPrayer.org. This is the National Day of Prayer site which, by the way, supports only those groups which agree with its interpretation of what Christianity is.

Let's take a look at some selected passages. Keating's proclamation includes great enduring pieces of wisdom, such as "…eminently fitting and proper that we … acknowledge our many blessings, and express gratitude for them while recognizing the need for the strengthening of religious and moral values in our land…" It may seem fitting for some, perhaps, but by no means for all. And let's not forget, "… it is appropriate to turn to God for spiritual faith, guidance, support and healing…" Appropriate. Well, I guess you can just call me inappropriate. Finally, "… the power of prayer provides hope and light to give each of us a sense of spiritual fulfillment…" I don't get a sense of spiritual fulfillment from prayer; I get a sense of wasted time and wasted energy.

I don't know about you, but I'm feeling a little left out here. Is this a government official speaking, or a Sunday School teacher? Do we truly feel that a proclamation of this type really embodies the concepts of a religion-neutral government? Or do we feel that we basically have an Oklahoma governor endorsing his ideas of religion?

Well, let's take a look at the Presidential proclamation. Do we think that perhaps Bush will be a little better, and realize that he's standing at a presidential podium and not a pulpit? Not likely. "Since our Nation's founding, Americans have turned to prayer for inspiration, strength, and guidance." Well, some Americans have, anyway. "Especially since September 11…We have all seen God's great faithfulness to our country." We all have? What I've seen is terrorism, knee-jerk reactions, a lot of dead people, and sad survivors.

It gets better, though. Bush goes on to say, "We give thanks for our families and loved ones, for the abundance of our land and the fruits of labor, for our inalienable rights and liberties, and for a great Nation that leads the world in efforts to preserve those rights and liberties." Oh. Okay, more of that 'Christian nation' junk. Religion has nothing to do with our rights and liberties.

It is our secular, religiously neutral government that has allowed us this degree of freedom. A pity the man in charge of that government doesn't seem to realize that. "I urge all our citizens to join in observing this day with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities." I guess those of us who aren't willing to observe prayer (since we don't believe in it) are either inappropriate or not good citizens.

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