Sunday, September 15

Day of Prayer? That’ll be the day

Nationally endorsed day for spiritual activity leaves little room for those who choose not to choose

May 6: a truly alienating day indeed. To anyone who voted to put students last in the Undergraduate Students Association Council election, the chant “Who’s university? Our university!” that roared from majority-winners Students First! was a little more off-putting than the usual partisan antics.

But true to the spirit of this mindless distraction, your humble heretic was too caught up in petty campus politics to notice something far more marginalizing ““ and relevant to my interests. For that Thursday witnessed more than just the inanity, the banality, the risibility of our dear campus; it saw the same words apply to this whole nation under God.

I speak, of course, about the National Day of Prayer.

“I call upon the citizens of our nation to pray, or otherwise give thanks, in accordance with their own faiths and consciences,” proclaimed our faithful President. This was back in April, just weeks after U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb ruled the federally supported day a constitutional quagmire.

But on Thursday, May 6, with Thomas Jefferson rolling in his grave, America took heed of Mr. Obama’s advice.

That the government has endorsed religious practice casts some doubt as to the extent of America’s value of religious freedom. Semantics aside (as “prayer,” here, can refer to any number of spiritual practices), here lies the greater issue of freedom among religion vs. freedom of religion. In the marketplace of ideas, the government has already indirectly subsidized one line of thought, and by encouraging us to pray, has provided free advertisement.

I can hear the opposition already: “This is America. Since when can we not pray?” Fear not, my pious detractors ““ should you on any day or days decide to talk to God or gods, you’ve my utmost approval. This is not about you, or me, or my penchant for heresy. This is about the appropriateness of a federal endorsement of religion.

It should not take a Ph.D. to know that it was secularism, not theism, on which this nation was founded; that Benjamin Franklin doubted Jesus’ divinity until the end; that Jefferson denounced the existence of an intervening, loving God; that as early as 1797, Congress denied the alleged Christian heritage of America. These are all historical facts that every educated American should know.

The truth may not sit well with some. “Separation of church and state” has been getting a bad rap, especially from folks such as Rev. Franklin Graham who likes to blame godlessness for social decay (interestingly enough, crime rate and religious presence in society are positively correlated). Whatever those hostile to the facts might say, the government of the United States has no place in religious matters.

It was religious freedom, not religiosity that the framers wrote into the capital-C Constitution. When Uncle Sam extends his role from protector-of-religion to outlet-for-religion, that very same religious freedom faces an existential threat. Judge Crabb said it best: With the National Day of Prayer, “the government has taken sides on a matter that must be left to individual conscience.”

How easy does our dear religious right rail against big government before defending federal intrusions such as this. I, for one, am not too keen on inconsistent principles. It is for this reason ““ as well as in the interest of all fairness ““ that I invite you all to join me in a grassroots secular alternative: the National Day of Free Thought.

By virtue of the authority vested in me by nothing in particular, I hereby proclaim May 13 ““ one week after a similarly phrased though oppositely charged day of observance ““ as a national day of skepticism. I call upon the students of our campus to question, or otherwise doubt, in accordance with their own cognizance and consciences; and I invite all people of rational inquiry to join me in asking for God’s evidence, reasoning and verification as we face the tangible world before us.

It will be a day of science, where we end, not start, with conclusions. It will be a day of reason, where faith does not exempt logically fallacious arguments from scrutiny. And it will be a day of accountability, when we place the burdens of life on our own shoulders, not ceding control to the divine.

Religious freedom is among the greatest rights we hold. And so long as one day honors the free exercise thereof, a day should honor the free rejection therein.

Just a suggestion.

E-mail Manalastas at [email protected] Send general comments to [email protected]

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