On May 3, 2014, history will be made once again on the steps of the Alabama Capitol Building. This hallowed location that witnessed the swearing in of Jefferson Davis as President of the Confederacy in 1860 and the birth of the Civil Rights Movement one hundred years later, will be the venue for the inaugural International Day of Reason for Secular Government.
Hosted by the Montgomery Area Freethought Association, in coalition with other groups in the State of Alabama, this rally is being held to reinforce the wall of separation between church and state and to limit the influence of partisan religious dogma in the public sphere. Recent attempts to force government sanctioned prayer into the public schools, attempts to erect religious monuments on public property, faith-based legislation aimed at controlling the sex lives and the reproductive choices of women, religious based efforts to deny equal rights to members of the LGBT community, efforts to divert public tax revenues to support religious schools, and so many other egregious assaults on civil government will be the focus of this rally, and diversity of participants will be a critical element.
The establishment clause of the First Amendment to our Constitution will serve as the rallying cry for the hundreds of Alabamians expected to attend. The guarantee of religious freedom granted in our Constitution does not exist merely to protect government from religious influence, it also protects the religious rights of individuals from intrusion by government. Whether your religious affiliation is in step with mainstream Christian denominations or your spiritual views are more exotic and esoteric, the founders of our country believed those beliefs to be inviolable. The single Muslim family living in a Methodist enclave has a constitutionally guaranteed right to attend public schools, attend public meetings, and generally participate in our society without their beliefs being demeaned, disrespected or otherwise sullied. Those same rights to spiritual freedom also apply equally to atheists, agnostics, Deists, spiritualists, and humanists.
Federal laws in this area are poorly understood and often intentionally misrepresented by fundamentalist and political groups. Prayer, for instance has never been banned in our schools. As a retired elementary school principal I can tell you there were lots of prayers raised by unprepared kids on test days. And more than a few teachers were certainly praying that my faculty meetings would end soon. The law is simple and clear however, in that teachers and/or school personnel cannot lead students in prayer. It’s really that simple. Nowhere in the law is the term “Merry Christmas” banned in schools, government offices, or the public square. But extremists want people to believe that Christian ideals are under attack by the federal courts, when there is no basis in fact to support that statement.
Hence, the need for reason and civil government to remain separate and apart from religious ideologies. It’s the right thing for government, it’s the right thing for scientific advancements, and it’s the right thing for the religious community.
So I’m hoping to see many of you on the steps of the Alabama Capitol Building on Saturday, May 3rd from 1:00-3:00 PM. I’ll be there, possibly on the speaker’s stand, but certainly in the midst of the crowd. So make some memorable signs, brush up on the first amendment, and bring truckloads of your friends. We want your voices to be heard!