On Thursday, President Biden issued a proclamation declaring a National Day of Prayer. He did so as every president has since 1952, in accordance with a federal law requiring the President to “set aside…a suitable day…on which the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer…”  In 1988, Congress decided the most suitable day was, forevermore, the first Thursday of May.

Unsurprisingly, the staff of American Atheists prefers to observe the National Day of Reason, which was established by our friends at the American Humanist Association in 2003. Earlier this week, Rob Hofmann, our State Policy Manager, spoke at a ceremony in the Rhode Island State House. The event was organized by the Rhode Island Atheists, which we recently recognized as the “Best New Affiliate” at our national convention. There’s a great write-up here about the event, which took place in spite of Governor McKee denying our affiliate’s proclamation request for the second consecutive year.

Meanwhile, on the steps of the Rhode Island State House, another group gathered to pray for, among other things, a man or woman “of God” to fill every legislative seat and the extinction of “those who forsake the Lord.” Their event was organized by the National Day of Prayer Task Force.

This evangelical Christian group was founded in the early 1980s to coordinate prayer events with local, state, and federal government entities. Since then, they’ve emerged as the de facto organizers of the originally nonsectarian day. But the NDP Task Force has created a deliberate and dangerous perception of officiality. They’ve even changed their branding and started doing business as “National Day of Prayer.”

Whether you think a National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional or inconsequential, the meteoric rise and mainstreaming of the Task Force ought to concern anyone who values democracy and religious freedom. That’s because, since at least 2010, the group has shifted from Focus-On-The-Family fundamentalism to radical dominionism, making overt references to the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) movement’s Seven Mountains Mandate (7M).

The National Day of Prayer Task Force’s promotional graphic for 2024 featured the “Shield of Faith” and “Sword of the Spirit” in front of mountains and an American flag sky. 

The group’s “2024 National Prayer” read, “Lead us forward to dispel the darkness and bring light throughout the Church, Family, Education, Business, Military, Government, and Arts, Entertainment, and Media.” Elsewhere on their website, they encourage “praying into seven centers of influence in our nation.” If this sounds familiar, it’s because 7M instructs followers to gain control over the “seven spheres” of society: religion, family, education, business, government, entertainment, and media.

We’ve talked a lot about the dangers of Christian nationalism, but 7M goes even further. What they’re promoting is a fascistic theocracy. While this kind of religious extremism isn’t new (7M itself has been around since the 1970s), what is unprecedented is its ascent from the fringe to the forefront — from Speaker of the House Mike Johnson to Tom Parker, the Chief Justice of the “pre-embryos are kids” Alabama Supreme Court — and their unwavering worship of Donald Trump.

Kate Cohen — Washington Post contributing columnist, author of “We Of Little Faith,” and speaker at our 2024 National Convention — wrote this week: “…the National Day of Prayer is pretty quaint. But it’s also how we got here, dangerously accustomed to incursions of religion into our political discourse.”

American Atheists has been sounding the alarm about those incursions for six decades. In that time, this organization has achieved a lot through litigation, legislation, and education. Our state and local affiliates, like the Rhode Island Atheists, are doing incredibly important work to promote reason over religious extremism.

But it’s clear we all have more to do, and the unfortunate reality of not-for-profit work is that none of it is possible without financial support from people like you. I’ve set a personal goal today of having 15 readers set up a monthly contribution of $5. That’s less than 20 cents a day, and while it won’t make a big dent in your pocketbook, I assure you it has an enormous impact on our efforts. So, will you be one of the 15?

I really hope so,

Melina Cohen
Communications Director

American Atheists is a 501(c)(3) non-partisan, nonprofit educational organization that relies on the support of members like you. Contributions are tax-deductible. Our Federal Tax ID Number is 74-2466507 and our Combined Federal Campaign number is 52217.

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