Does Australia need a National Day of Reason?

6 05 2007


In response to President George W. Bush’s declaration of a National Day of Prayer in 2002, atheist, humanist and secularist organisations in the US have endorsed May 3rd as a National Day of Reason.

Many who value the separation of religion and government have sought an appropriate response to the federally-supported National Day of Prayer, an annual abuse of the constitution. Nontheistic Americans (including freethinkers, humanists, atheists, agnostics, and deists), along with many traditionally religious allies, view such government-sanctioned sectarianism as unduly exclusionary.

A consortium of leaders from within the community of reason endorsed the idea of a National Day of Reason. This observance is held in parallel with the National Day of Prayer, on the first Thursday in May (3 May 2007). The goal of this effort 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.

Bush’s 2007 National Day of Prayer proclamation calls on “the citizens of our Nation to give thanks, each according to his or her own faith, for the freedoms and blessings we have received and for God’s continued guidance, comfort, and protection.” However, as the Chicago Tribune‘s Eric Zom points out,

the National Day of Prayer does not embrace diversity. It’s now basically a Christian observance, with more than 30,000 events nationwide promoted by the National Day of Prayer Task Force, an organization that requires its volunteer coordinators to agree to a statement that reads in part, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God and the only one by which I can obtain salvation and have an ongoing relationship with God.”

The National Day of Prayer Task Force describes itself as “the Judeo-Christian expression of the National Day of Prayer”–a “Judeo-Christian expression,” as Zom wryly observes, that excludes Jews. “Reason would tell you,” states Zom, “that government officials at all levels ought to distance themselves from such blatant sectarianism.”

A similar National Day of Prayer was declared last year by the National Council of Churches in Australia for November 26th. Though it was ostensibly a response to the drought, it does signal a worrying tendency among Australian churches to attempt to ape the intermingling of church and state that has been the hallmark of Bush America, and an inevitable consequence of the Republican Party’s strong identification with the Religious Right.

Thus far, however, the Australian National Day of Prayer doesn’t seem to have the official status of its American counterpart. The National Prayer Breakfast, on the other hand, held each year on November 26th in the Great Hall of Parliament, ought to be more of a concern for those paying attention to the increasing tendency to mix religion and politics under Howard–especially when Bill Muehlenberg is crowing about the event being part of “God at work in Canberra.”

So is the trend away from secularism in the years since the Howard Government came to office reason enough to declare an Australian National Day of Reason on November 26th?

UPDATE: Perhaps the National Day of Reason ought to be moved ahead in the calendar. Bruce reminds me that the Australian National Day of Thanksgiving–an event which has historical roots in 17th century America but absolutely no tradition in Australia (the Australian franchise was established last year)–will be held on May 26th. The involvement of the Governor-General, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in this event should at least raise questions about church-state separation.

Bruce has posted on this topic previously.

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