The 61st annual National Day of Prayer was observed on May 3, as it is on the first Thursday of May every year. The same day was also the 10th annual National Day of Reason.
As an alternative to both the Day of Prayer and the Day of Reason, I am proposing a National Day of Listening.
The modern law formalizing the annual observance of the Day of Prayer was enacted in 1952 by a joint resolution of Congress and signed by President Truman.
The Day of Reason was created in 2003 by the American Humanist Association and the Washington Area Secular Humanists, partly in response to what they consider to be the unconstitutionality of the Day of Prayer.
According to U.S. Code section 119 (1998), “The President shall issue each year a proclamation designating the first Thursday in May as a National Day of Prayer on which the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals.”
It is interesting that this government document says that people in the United States “may turn to God in prayer,” whereas the promoters of the Day of Prayer often say that citizens are “asked to” do so.
In spite of some email rumors again this year that the Day of Prayer was being canceled by the president, the 2012 National Day of Prayer was officially proclaimed by President Obama on May 1. (The text of that proclamation can be found here.)
The promoters of the Day of Reason say on their website that their purpose is “to celebrate reason – a concept all Americans can support – and to raise public awareness about the persistent threat to religious liberty posed by government intrusion into the private sphere of worship.”
The Day of Reason is gaining recognition, partially through the activity of Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif., b. 1931), who has officially recognized the day of Reason by issuing a proclamation in the U.S. House of Representatives the past two years. (The text of that proclamation can be found here.)
My proposed Day of Listening is envisioned as a day that all U.S. citizens could observe together.
Christians, Jews or Muslims, for example, could use the day as a special time to listen to or for the “voice” of God/YHWH/Allah.
Those who are atheists could focus on listening to the voice of reason, conscience, the Great Books or whatever.
And perhaps it could, importantly, be a time during which everyone would listen to each other in order to increase mutual understanding, respect and appreciation.
Many have seen the Day of Prayer as a time to emphasize national unity, but the exclusion of those who are not religious makes for disunity.
The promoters of the Day of Reason call for unity through reason, but pitting reason against prayer is also divisive. (Many of us people of faith think it is reasonable to pray.)
But gathering for the purpose of listening should be something everyone could share in and be unified by.