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Humanists Praise National Day of Prayer Ruling

Washington, DC, April 16, 2010

The American Humanist Association praised yesterday's ruling by a federal judge that the National Day of Prayer is an unconstitutional violation of the separation of church and state. U.S. District Court Judge Barbara B. Crabb wrote of the 1952 statute creating the National Day of Prayer that its "sole purpose is to encourage all citizens to engage in prayer, an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function." 

"This ruling is a victory for religious freedom and separation of church and state in this country," said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. "The government should not be directing citizens to pray. In addition to being unconstitutional, it's also especially offensive to people who don't believe in a god and are made to feel excluded by the observance."

The statute that established the National Day of Prayer calls on the president to annually designate one day, other than a Sunday, "on which the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups and as individuals." The law was amended in 1988 to designate the first Thursday in May as the annual National Day of Prayer.

President Obama indicated that he still intends to recognize the observance on May 6, as the injunction against the National Day of Prayer would not take effect until after the appeals process has been exhausted. In response, the American Humanist Association urged the president to instead recognize the National Day of Reason, the nontheist movement's response to the National Day of Prayer. Also held on the first Thursday in May, the National Day of Reason is a day in which events are held across the United States in order to commemorate reason--a far more inclusive observance, humanists argue.

"The National Day of Reason includes all Americans and calls attention to a value that's essential to effective democracy," said David Niose, president of the American Humanist Association.

The American Humanist Association along with the Washington Area Secular Humanists host a website for the National Day of Reason (http://www.nationaldayofreason.org/), where individuals can access a wealth of resources, including a listing of NDoR events in their area, facts and statistics regarding the National Day of Prayer, and essays on church-state separation.

Bob Ritter, staff attorney of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, the legal arm of the American Humanist Association, said of the case: "While an appeal by President Obama to the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals is expected, I fully expect that Judge Crabb's well-reasoned decision will prevail on appeal. And should the case be appealed, the American Humanist Association will file an amicus brief in support of Judge Crabb's decision upholding the First Amendment principle that our branches of government may not favor one religion over another, or religion over nonreligion."

The American Humanist Association (www.americanhumanist.org) advocates for the rights and viewpoints of humanists. Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., its work is extended through more than 100 local chapters and affiliates across America.

Humanism is the idea that you can be good without a belief in God.