Day of Prayer Attendance

Dana Milbank of the Washington Post has a terrific article about attendance at various National Day of Prayer events in Washington, D.C. (By the way, he uses the term “Let us pray” as a rhetorical tool… he’s not preaching to you.) The emphases are mine:

Let us pray that, on next year’s National Day of Prayer, there is better attendance at the “Bible Reading Marathon” on the West Front of the Capitol.

Organizers put out 600 folding chairs on the lawn — the spot where presidents are inaugurated — and set up a huge stage with powerful amplifiers. But at 9:30 a.m. yesterday, not one of the 600 seats was occupied. By 11 a.m., as a woman read a passage from Revelations, attendance had grown — to four people. Finally, at 1 p.m., 37 of the 600 seats were occupied, though many of those people were tourists eating lunch.

But that was just one event, right? How did other Christian gatherings do?

The Rev. Patrick Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition scheduled a “National Day of Prayer observance” and news conference for 3 p.m. yesterday in front of the Supreme Court. [Jeff] Gannon, wearing a Marines baseball cap, arrived to help with the press outreach.

But the event attracted only one photographer (from the Washington Times), one reporter (author of the Washington Sketch) and not a single television camera. The participants themselves were late, and only eight showed up.

Attendance wasn’t all that much better at the Beltway Atheists‘ National Day of Reason event, but it did get a bit of coverage from this reporter:

To protest the National Day of Prayer, American Atheists held a counterdemonstration across from the White House yesterday, called the National Day of Reason. Rick Wingrove, co-founder of a group called Beltway Atheists, stood on a coffee table in Lafayette Park and used a bullhorn to get his message out.

But those participating in the National Day of Prayer did not find the National Day of Reason to be much of a threat. Wingrove attracted a crowd of only five fellow atheists, and they reported no confrontations with believers. Just “lots of tourists and schoolkids,” said one man handing out Beltway Atheists literature.

It should be noted, though, that we’re talking about a local atheist group versus national Christian organizations. For a local group to even get coverage in this Washington Post article is quite impressive.

For the National Day of Prayer’s main event, headed by [Focus on the Family chairman] James Dobson’s wife Shirley, there were many more people– 350 of them, in fact. They must have felt better, right?

But even this crowd, secure in their numbers, felt endangered.

“Today we seemingly live in a society totally dominated by secularism,” James Smith, the Mississippi chief justice, told the believers, “which would without our vigilance, I submit, remove all vestiges of the Bible, religion and prayer from our government.”

Smith chose an odd location to speak of encroaching secularism: He and fellow participants spent three hours praying in a government building with a military band and color guard, the House chaplain, a senior military commander, several congressmen and a member of the president’s Cabinet; earlier in the day, many of the same people were at the White House to hear Bush tell them “our Eternal Father inclines his ear to the voice of his children.”

For what it’s worth, I still haven’t seen too much mainstream media coverage of any blood drives or other acts of charity (by any group of people, not just atheists).


[tags]atheist, atheism, Dan Milbank, Washington Post, National Day of Prayer, Washington, D.C., Bible Reading Marathon, Revelations, Rev. Patrick Mahoney, Christian Defense Coalition, Supreme Court, Jeff Gannon, Washington Sketch, Beltway Atheists, National Day of Reason, American Atheists, Rick Wingrove, Christian, Focus on the Family, James Dobson, Shirley Dobson, James Smith, George W. Bush[/tags]

  • http://groundedinreality.blogspot.com Bruce

    “Today we seemingly live in a society totally dominated by secularism,” James Smith, the Mississippi chief justice, told the believers, “which would without our vigilance, I submit, remove all vestiges of the Bible, religion and prayer from our government.”

    It’s amazing how a Mississippi chief justice does not understand the basic concepts of our Constitution. I am so glad I don’t live in the South.

  • http://www.righteouspath.org/ Tim

    pretty sad, if you ask me..all of that bug hype about things happening, and no one, on either side, wants to do anything.
    You should give this to Ir of Off The Map and ask them to post it to show them what’s happening on both sides. It’s interesting!

  • Darryl

    There’s a simple explanation for why these events were a bust: Christians of the kind that have been quite vocal about such things as the national day of prayer don’t really believe that prayer is effective in the public part of life. Prayer gives them some kind of private comfort, but it clearly doesn’t do what they want it to do for the country (outlaw abortions, suppress gays, get prayer back in schools, get ten commandments back in courthouses, get creationism taught in science classes, etc.). Christians tried the prayer route for many years; it didn’t work, and so they turned to political organization and activism. Christians supposedly believe that their true foe is not their fellow citizens, but Satan, and that to effectively fight this foe they do not use earthly weapons, but spiritual ones–heavenly ones–like prayer, fasting, good works, self-control, charity, the Word of God, etc. They may still tell you this, but they don’t really believe it. Their actions tell the truth.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com FriendlyAtheist

    Bjorn offers this comment (that I’m posting on his behalf):

    Here’s a link to a slide show from the St Paul Pioneer Press coverage of the Day of Prayer and Day of Reason. The Minnesota Atheists were kicking it inside the capitol, while the Day of Prayer was going on outside.

    Check out my fiance’s comment, “We’re not anti-religion. I think there are angry atheists and friendly atheists, and I’d like to think this crowd is the friendly atheist crowd.”

    I did think the Day of Prayer comment was interesting, that because there were more people outside, supporting the Day of Prayer, then inside, in opposition, that it’s obvious that they are right, that there is a “hunger.”

    It’s a very nice slideshow. Check it out!

  • Richard Wade

    There’s a simple explanation for why these events were a bust:…

    Darryl, that is the most insightful statement I have read in a very long time. My jaw drops open at how obvious it is, and how I had completely missed it.

  • Pingback: Friendly Atheist » Why the Low Attendance?

  • Karen

    I just have to comment on this:
    Darryl said,
    May 6, 2007 at 12:09 pm
    “Christians of the kind that have been quite vocal about such things as the national day of prayer don’t really believe that prayer is effective in the public part of life.”

    I am a Christian who believes that prayer is a huge part of my life and has been very effecitve. I have seen it work more than once for me, my friends and my family. So I dont agree with your statement at all.

  • ed-words

    Yes, Karen, prayer DOES work!!

    (except when it doesn’t)


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