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]