Day of Reason, Day of Prayer

Carol Platt Liebau

5/2/2013 8:04:14 PM - Carol Platt Liebau

Q: How do you know a secular humanist mayor has been nominated for a Cabinet position?

A: After proclaiming a "Day of Reason" on a date generally designated a "Day of Prayer" in 2012, this year he issues both proclamations on the same day.

America, meet your new nominee for Secretary of Transporation -- Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx.  Of course, since 1961 when the Supreme Court interpreted the Constitution's prohibition of religious tests for public office in Article VI to extend to all offices -- not just federal ones -- it's been generally accepted that one's religion (or, more properly, the lack thereof) is irrelevant to the holding of public office.

Fair enough. There are many atheists who are good people and who can serve the public ably.

But by choosing to issue his "Day of Reason" proclamation on a "Day of Prayer," Foxx has effectively implied that he sees "Prayer" and "Reason" as standing in opposition.   This, of course, is exactly the aggressive stance underlying the establishment of a "Day of Reason," as one sympathetic account from 2012 makes clear:

At least two cities on Thursday recognized the National Day of Reason, a celebration intended to be a secular alternative to the National Day of Prayer.

Mayor Anthony Foxx of Charlotte, North Carolina and the Council of the City of New Orleans both issued National Day of Reason proclamations, urging citizens to celebrate free thought and rational inquiry.

In late April, Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA) issued a proclamation on the House floor recognizing the National Day of Reason. He described the event as “an opportunity to reaffirm the Constitutional separation of religion and government.”

The National Day of Reason was promoted by the American Humanist Association and the Secular Coalition for America. The yearly celebration occurs on the first Thursday of May, the same day as the National Day of Prayer.

 Stark was the only declared atheist in Congress.  Of course it's no surprise that he'd be beating the drum for "separation of religion and government" (a more extreme formulation even than "separation of church and state" -- a phrase that itself appears nowhere in the Constitution).  But a "Day of Reason" is hardly mainstream; only Foxx and the City Council of New Orleans were reported to have joined up with this "Day of Reason" business last year. This doesn't strike me as mainstream.

But decide for yourself.  Here is the text of Foxx's proclamation:

WHEREAS, the application of reason, more than any other means, has proven to offer hope for human survival upon Earth, improving conditions within the universe, and cultivating intelligent, moral and ethical interactions among people and their environments, and

WHEREAS, those who wrote the Constitution of the United States of America, the basic document for governing the affairs of humankind within the United States, based it upon principles delineated within the philosophies distinguishing the historical Age of Reason, and

WHEREAS, most citizens of the United States purport to value reason and its application, and

WHEREAS, it is the duty and responsibility of every citizen to promote the development and application of reason

NOW, THEREFORE, I, Anthony R. Foxx, Mayor of Charlotte, do hereby proclaim May 03, 2011 as

“A DAY OF REASON”

in Charlotte and commend its observance to all citizens.

Witness my hand and the official Seal of the City of Charlotte.

Anthony R Foxx, Mayor

Compare it with the claims made by President Obama's proclamation for the 2013 Day of Prayer.  Note the "Day of Reason's" absolutist claims  -- for example, that reason "more than any other means" offers hope for survival, improved condition, and "ethical interactions" between people and then ask yourself: These are the folks who want to call believers "intolerant"?  It's hard to imagine any elected official -- especially Anthony Foxx! -- offering a proclamation making such claims for religion in general or (gasp!) Christianity in particular.