Obama’s Proclamation Includes Atheists May 8, 2009

Obama’s Proclamation Includes Atheists

This post is by Jesse Galef, who works for the American Humanist Association

So the 2009 National Day of Prayer has come and gone.  Obama issued a proclamation as mandated by congress, but he didn’t hold a ceremony as his predecessor had.

Ok, here’s the good news about the proclamation: it’s the best National Day of Prayer proclamation we’ve seen.  Here’s the beginning of the 2008 proclamation given by Bush:

America trusts in the abiding power of prayer and asks for the wisdom to discern God’s will in times of joy and of trial. As we observe this National Day of Prayer, we recognize our dependence on the Almighty, we thank Him for the many blessings He has bestowed upon us, and we put our country’s future in His hands.

Quite a contrast with Obama’s proclamation, who once again goes out of his way to include us:

On this day of unity and prayer, let us also honor the service and sacrifice of the men and women of the United States Armed Forces. We celebrate their commitment to uphold our highest ideals, and we recognize that it is because of them that we continue to live in a Nation where people of all faiths can worship or not worship according to the dictates of their conscience.

You can see why I consider Obama’s proclamation a step up.  As far as I could find, he’s the first one to include non-believers in these proclamations.

Here’s the bad news: it’s still a National Day of Prayer proclamation, and Congress still requires our President to issue these blatent constitutional violations every year.

Even Obama’s should be considered unconstitutional, officially declaring: “I call upon Americans to pray in thanksgiving for our freedoms and blessings and to ask for God’s continued guidance, grace, and protection for this land that we love.”  It’s no different than if had he called upon Americans to ask for Jesus’ guidance, or called upon us to attend Catholic Mass.  Being more vague in the request doesn’t make it constitutional.

Elected officials have no religious role in our secular government.  They cannot dictate the religious observance of citizens.  Freedom of religion means the freedom to decide how – and whether – to worship according to the dictates of conscience.

As is usually the case, Thomas Jefferson understood.  In a famous letter to Rev. Samuel Miller, Jefferson declined to make a religious proclamation, explaining that “civil powers alone have been given to the President of the U S. and no authority to direct the religious exercises of his constituents.”

More unexpectedly, you know who else understood?  Then-Governor Jesse Ventura, who refused to issue a National Day of Prayer proclamation in 1999, saying: “I believe in the separation of church and state. We all have our own religious beliefs. There are people out there who are atheists, who don’t believe at all….They are citizens of Minnesota, and I have to respect that.”

Like the rest of you who saw the movie Predator, I was surprised to read that.

(Image from the White House Flickr PhotoStream)

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  • Jesse had said in interviews when he was governor that he considered religion to be a sign of a weak mind, but I can’t remember the exact quote.

  • Hank Bones

    I was a bit to young to appreciate it at the time, but Ventura was awesome! I mostly only remember his “Jesse the body, Jesse the mind” commercials. He makes me proud of the electorate of my home state.

    Wait, I just remembered Bachman, Coleman, Pawlenty. Ventura makes me proud of the electorate of my home state, circa 1998.


  • Ok post…but why does it bother you so much if a President or any sitting elected official mentions the word (name) God? As an Agnostic it does not bother me one bit. There is a difference in how I handle it. If I see anyone praying to whomever in their own way, regardless of if they are in a government building, it doesn’t bother me. If that’s what they feel they need to handle the job every day more power to them. Now, don’t show up at my door with a pamphlet or you’ll have a door slammed in your face. If you approach me out in the parking lot, I’ll politely decline and go about my business. Don’t press your views on me and I won’t press my views on you. Period. Why can’t all of you just understand and respect that?

  • Hank Bones

    @ Mike

    From Wikipedia:

    In a Playboy interview, [Ventura] said, “Organized religion is a sham and a crutch for weak-minded people who need strength in numbers. It tells people to go out and stick their noses in other people’s business.” In his 1999 best-selling memoir I Ain’t Got Time to Bleed, Ventura responded to the controversy sparked by these remarks by elaborating on his views concerning religion: “I’d like to clarify [my comments published in Playboy] about religious people being weak-minded. I didn’t mean all religious people. I don’t have any problem with the vast majority of religious folks. I count myself among them, more or less. But I believe because it makes sense to me, not because I think it can be proven. There are lots of people out there who think they know the truth about God and religion, but does anybody really know for sure? That’s why the founding fathers built freedom of religious belief into the structure of this nation, so that everybody could make up their minds for themselves. But I do have a problem with the people who think they have some right to try to impose their beliefs on others. I hate what the fundamentalist fanatics are doing to our country. It seems as though, if everybody doesn’t accept their version of reality, that somehow invalidates it for them. Everybody must believe the same things they do. That’s what I find weak and destructive.”

    Not an atheist (dammit) but someone we can count on our side. I want him to run for governor again.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Woo-hoo! Thanks to Obama for standing up for the right of non-believers to pray.

  • Thanks, Hank!

    I don’t know that I want him to be governor again, but at least on this issue he turned out to be a top-notch guy.

  • bigjohn756

    IIRC, Jesse Ventura plans run for President in 2012. I’d vote for him. He makes more sense than any other candidate we have had in many years.

  • Miko

    1) Military might is a secular form of religion. I applaud Obama’s inclusion of nonbelief, but the military is at best a necessary evil and in its current incarnation is an unnecessary evil. Saying (in essence) “God supports our imperialist ambitions” isn’t really a great step forward for the U.S.; that’s been our policy for at least the last twelve years, if not for the last 100 or more.

    2) I don’t know too much about Ventura, but I’m not surprised that he’s on our side here: despite being a former member of the Reform Party, he does have some libertarian ideals, such as supporting legal gay rights, abortion rights, and the use of medical marijuana. Plus he hasn’t been afraid to take the correct position on unpopular issues: for example, he vetoed a bill requiring public school students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, voted to legalize prostitution, and denounced economic sanctions against Cuba. And there’s this (emphases added):

    “WHEREAS: The unique feature of this nation at its founding was its establishment of a secular Constitution that separated government from religion – something never done before; and WHEREAS: Our secular Constitution has enabled people of all worldviews to coexist in harmony, undivided by sectarian strife; and WHEREAS: President James Madison made clear the importance of maintaining this harmony when he said, “The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the endless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries”; and WHEREAS: The diversity of our people requires mutual respect and equal protection for all our citizens, including minority groups, if we are to remain “One nation, indivisible”; and WHEREAS: It is the unfettered diversity of ideas and worldviews that have made our nation the strongest and most productive in the world; and WHEREAS: Eternal vigilance must be maintained to guard against those who seek to stifle ideas, establish a narrow orthodoxy, and divide our nation along arbitrary lines of race, ethnicity, and religious belief or non-belief. NOW, THEREFORE, I, JESSE VENTURA, Governor of Minnesota, do hereby proclaim that Thursday, July 4, 2002 shall be observed as: INDIVISIBLE DAY In the State Of Minnesota.”

  • Eskomo

    Be careful with the feel good emotion for Jesse Ventura. His political views are right down the middle. Government should be just big enough to do the job, and all taxes must be justified. But he hated reporters and called them jackals. Politically, anybody to the right of him was an idiot and he called them stupid. Whereas anyone to the left was an idiot and he called them stupid. Near the end of his term, no input was given to the legislators for bills. When a bill arrived that he disagreed with, he would veto it. The Democrats and the Republicans would then completely agree with each other and override the veto. It was a sad ending.

  • I knew there was a reason I had voted for Jesse…

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