Today, across the country, Americans will observe the 61st Annual National Day of Prayer, which was created in 1952 by a joint resolution of Congress. The first Thursday of May is reserved for this nationwide opportunity to pray for the United States’ wellbeing, and there are tens of thousands of prayer events scheduled across the country to commemorate it. According to the Christian Broadcasting Network, the number of prayer events has increased by 35% over last year.
Nontheists, however, will have observances of their own. Instead of celebrating a “Day of Prayer,” they will honor a “Day of Reason.” This year, Rep. Pete Stark, the only congressman who identifies as a nonbeliever, recognized the secular holiday on the House floor.
Some see the National Day of Reason as an affront to the National Day of Prayer. Billy McCormack, a member of the board of the Christian Coalition, described the Day of Reason as “simply a blatant assault on Christianity.” McCormack continued, saying, “France bowed to the god of reason when it adopted its Constitution. Our forefathers founded a Christian nation based on the teachings of Jesus. The difference is plain.”
Nontheists argue that the National Day of Reason is simply a way to make more Americans feel included. Instead of praying, participants are encouraged to perform community service projects. A few groups openly protest the National Day of Prayer, but others participate in blood drives, voter registration programs, and environmental activities.
Americans who never pray are a small but undeniable minority of the population. According to the Pew Research Center, 8% of Americans report never praying, while around 3-in-10 (23%) pray once a week to once a month, and a majority (56%) pray at least once a day. The Day of Reason, however, is much more likely to appeal to younger Americans, who pray with much less frequency than the general population. Nearly 4-in-10 (37%) younger Millennials report that they seldom or never pray, while 3-in-10 (27%) pray once a week to once a month, and one-third (33%) pray at least once a day.
Four-in-ten (42%) Americans believe, like McCormack, that American has always been in and is currently a Christian nation. But nearly as many (37%) agree that America was a Christian nation in the past, but is not now, and nearly 1-in-5 (17%) say that American has never been a Christian nation.
Considering that the religiously unaffiliated are growing more quickly than any other religious group in the country today, one might expect the National Day of Reason to become an increasingly popular event. However, more than 4-in-10 of the unaffiliated report that they pray at least a few times a month, so they don’t seem likely to abandon the National Day of Prayer altogether.