To give America an extra edge during the Cold War against godless Communism, President Harry Truman designated the first Thursday in May as the National Day of Prayer. Every year since, that’s when government officials from city council to president ask citizens to join them in the most blatantly religious activity there is: pleading to a divinity to suspend the laws of the universe, and to bend destiny on behalf of the petitioner.
In response to the unconstitutionality (and sheer offensiveness) of such a public ritual, the American Humanist Association created the National Day of Reason in 2003. The National Day of Prayer clearly violates the First Amendment of the Constitution because it asks federal, state, and local governments to use tax dollars and taxpayer resources to engage in admittedly religious ceremonies.
The National Day of Reason celebrates the application of rationality and logic in human affairs and their positive impact on humanity, including in science and good public policy. Unlike a day of prayer (which excludes the 20% of Americans who are non-believers, as well as religious people who think it’s inappropriate), every American can celebrate reason, as we all use (or attempt to use) it on a daily basis in settings ranging from the supermarket to our careers.
The National Day of Reason is a good moment to examine the way religion is actively undermining sexuality in America today:
* Deliberately conflating contraception and abortion: It’s bad enough that they’re obsessed with criminalizing abortion for non-believers; they manipulate believers (and put them at risk for unwanted pregnancies) by mislabeling some kinds of birth control as “a kind of abortion.” And they simply lie about how Emergency Contraception works.
* Undermining medically accurate school sex education: Under President George W. Bush, organized religion successfully funneled hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars into abstinence-only sex education. Curricula were blatantly sexist, wildly inaccurate, and religiously oriented. By 2008, dozens of high-quality studies across the country had documented the failure of these programs to reduce teen sexual behavior or unintended pregnancy. But an entire generation of children learned that sex can kill you, males can’t control themselves, condoms don’t work, and young people who “give in” to sexual urges are bad.
* Claiming religious piety makes people morality experts: Whenever public policy focusses on sexuality (pornography, strip clubs, library books, internet filtering, art in museums, etc.), religious institutions insist they deserve a special seat at the decision-making table. They repeatedly make three false claims: if it’s about sex, it’s about morality; if it’s about morality, they’re the experts; and non-believers are less moral than believers. And so, for example, organized religion has successfully limited the number of pre-teens getting vaccinated against HPV by transforming it from a public health issue to a moral issue.
* Lying about the effects of pornography use: Organized religion has led a disinformation campaign aimed at persuading believers that looking at adult porn destroys marriages and families; makes men rape women; and leads men to look at child porn. Indeed, organized religion spreads the lie that the very desire to look at porn is evil. This encourages couples to fight about porn as adversaries, rather than examine their sexual dissatisfaction as partners. It also makes organized religion a primary recruitment tool for the porn addiction (and sex addiction) industry.
And like the boy who kills his parents and then asks the court for leniency because he’s an orphan, the Church today has the nerve to use “freedom of religion” as a cover for discrimination, special government favors, or people breaking their civic covenants. And so they turn the public’s health insurance opportunities into a moral issue about “supporting” birth control; they turn the professional oaths of physicians and pharmacists into matters of “conscience;” and they reject marriage equality for all Americans because treating everyone fairly goes against their religious “values.”
People have a right to pray both in private and in the public vehicle of their (tax-supported) houses of worship. I fiercely defend my neighbors’ right to their religious freedom. But I’m exasperated that believers can’t see how wrong it is to have the government sponsor an admittedly religious activity.
According to the National Day of Prayer’s vice chairman John Bornschein, “This is purely about prayer and praying for our leadership and asking for God’s wisdom and blessing over our leaders.” I’d prefer leaders who are too wise to believe in a god who can be prayed to. I’d prefer leaders who understand the results of praying to a god who supposedly creates sexuality, then fears and hates it, demanding that we diminish it.
I prefer leaders who strive to be wise, using reason and collaboration instead of asking for it and then waiting around, hoping it drops onto them from the sky.
As a nation of adults, it’s time we replace the National Day of Prayer with the National Day of Reason.