Pennsylvania Lawmakers Declare ‘National Fast Day’ to Honor God, Prayer, and Abraham Lincoln

One of the reasons church-state separation groups go after bills and resolutions that contain even a bit of religion-promotion is that they know they can’t let anything slide. They let the word “God” appear on our currency, which seems like no big deal… until decades later, when Christians use that as evidence that we’re a “Christian nation,” whatever that means.

On March 31st, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation declaring April 30th of that year a “Day of Fasting and Prayer”:

And whereas it is the duty of nations, as well as of men, to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions, in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon, and to recognize the sublime truths announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord:

It behooves us, then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.

That sort of proclamation might have been easier to make when religious minorities were virtually non-existent. But that sort of rhetoric would never go over unchallenged now, right? We’re a nation that’s supposed to respect the beliefs of everybody, and there’s certainly a lot more religious plurality now than ever before in our nation’s history.

Well, tell that to the legislators in Pennsylvania.

The folks who brought you the Year of the Bible, a Day of Prayer, and Prayer Month are back with a resolution declaring it “National Fast Day” — and they’re basically using Lincoln’s resolution as the template:

RESOLVED, That the House of Representatives recognize April 30, 2013, as “National Fast Day” in honor of the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s Proclamation.

The resolution, sponsored by Republican Rep. Rick Saccone, passed by a vote of 160-35. It wasn’t even close. And while it’s far from controversial to honor Lincoln, this particular resolution — which says that we “own [our] dependence upon the overruling power of God” and that the only nations that are blessed are the ones “whose God is the Lord.” — has no business getting passed today.

Justin Vacula explains the problem with supporting House Resolution 17:

While the House of Representatives do not personally affirm declarations directly taken from Lincoln’s proclamation, they recognize April 30 of 2013 as National Fast Day in light of text from Lincoln’s resolution. This mere recognition, though, should not let the House of Representatives off the hook because — through the House’s recognition — reasonable observers ought to believe that members voting in favor of HR 17 endorse Lincoln’s proclamation.

The House of Representatives — whether by proxy or direct announcement — should not be encouraging Pennsylvanians to worship any gods nor should they be making specific statements about the nature of an alleged divine deity or recognizing specific “Holy Scriptures.”

Karla Porter adds:

Invoking the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s Proclamation is simply a clever way to avoid the technicality of separation of church and state by celebrating a historical event to force Pennsylvanians from backgrounds and traditions as diverse as the four corners of the world, to venerate the non-substantiated Judeo-Christian God.

It’s not surprising that Pennsylvania legislators did this, but it’s sure as hell disappointing, as if anyone in Pennsylvania who isn’t a Christian is less of a citizen.

If you live in Pennsylvania, check out how your representatives voted and let them know how you feel. This sort of thing doesn’t change unless they know we’re watching and basing our next votes on what they do regarding church-state matters.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Kelley

    What is really worrisome is that if these practices proliferate with tacit governmental approval, what happens to those of us who do not wish to deny ourselves or our children food for a day for a Christian ‘National Fast Day’? We have enough Christian holy days to celebrate that are recognized by our Federal Government with days off from work to worship as we wish. This sounds like the beginning of a movement to install theocratic rules for all Americans regardless of their beliefs and ignoring separation of church and state. This scares the sh#t out of me.

  • rwlawoffice

    Obvious problem with your analysis. How is this recognition of an historical act treating non Christians like “less than citizens”? Not everything is about poking the finger at atheists.

  • rwlawoffice

    Where is this something that you are compelled to participate in?

  • Ilikecheese

    I doubt you can force people to fast, but what if it became a big thing and various religious business owners decided to close their eateries that day, or mark those who come in for the ever wonderful outpouring of xtian “love” for those who don’t share v in their beliefs?

  • GloomCookie613

    Damnit, PA Reps! You’re making us all look stupid, knock it off!

  • jumpjet2k

    Okay, who’s up for a feast? Pig roast, maybe? How’s April 30th for everybody?

  • Sven2547

    And of course, if you vote against it it you’re voting against LINCOLN! And who doesn’t love Lincoln?

  • busterggi

    Should be interesting to see how all the neo-Confederates in the red states suddenly switch to loving Lincoln.

  • LesterBallard

    Stereotypical, but a lot of the Christians I know need more than one day of fasting.

  • LesterBallard

    John Wilkes Booth? The assholes who talk about how great slavery was?

  • TCC

    It’s a roundabout way of doing the same thing.

  • meekinheritance

    Chick-Fil-A might lose money. I wonder if the stockholders would approve of that.

  • Myrmidon

    Thanks for bringing this to our attention. I sent the following (er, non-redacted) email to my district’s representative:

    Good afternoon (rep’s name),

    Firstly, thank you for your service to the State of Pennsylvania. I appreciate that you are working toward what you see as a better and brighter tomorrow for the (n)th District and the State as whole.

    Today i discovered via the blogosphere that you voted in approval of HR 17, “[r]ecognizing April 30, 2013, as ‘National Fast Day’ in honor of the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s Proclamation Appointing a National Fast Day”. This resolution is one more in a line of progressively worrisome attempts to legislate a direct association between Pennsylvania and Christianity.

    I understand that around 80% of Pennsylvanians identify themselves as Christian (including Catholics, Protestants, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and so on). I would ask you to please remember, however, the other 20% of Pennsylvanians. We do not “[recognize] the Supreme Authority and just Government of Almighty God”, as Lincoln proclaimed, nor is it our duty to “confess [our] sins and transgressions, in humble sorrow”. We do not “recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures”.

    Pennsylvania, as a colony, had absolutely robust religious freedom; only Pennsylvania and Rhode Island allowed the Religious Society of Friends, known as the Quakers, to even settle within their borders. Supporting HR 17 was not only a failure to maintain and protect that freedom, it was diametrically opposed to it. I implore you to consider, when scrutinizing future legislation, that you do not only represent the privileged majority of Pennsylvania; it is also your duty to remember and protect the freedoms of the minority — and that includes freedom from government-endorsed encouragement of the worship of or submission to any god at all.

    (my name)
    (my hometown)

  • Randay

    I think you might be able to make a deal with many restaurants for a discount on April 30th and you could dine with your family, friends, or lover at a nice price. Be sure to ask that the wine or beer be included.

  • SeekerLancer

    Once again my state is living up to its reputation as the South of the North.

  • SeekerLancer

    Chik-Fil-A is privately owned, not publicly traded. There’s no stock holders to answer to.

  • baal

    I can effectively ignore the actions of christians? My reality isn’t so nicely split off from the rest of America. Also, RWL, do you need to think about the State government parading the signs and badge of other religions before you? Do you think that you’d (as a christian) get a fair shake if you had an issue before a nationalistic Hindu State government? (insert your favorite non-christian religion)

  • baal

    Being overweight is a common trait in the US. Please don’t use body shaming.

  • Craig

    “How is this recognition of an historical act”

    Please. It’s just another covering act to have government promote Christianity. In 20 years this proclamation will be used by the religious right as “evidence” of a “Christian nation”.

    “Not everything is about poking the finger at atheists.”

    No, it’s about poking the finger at everyone who’s not Christian.

  • Rwlawoffice

    The only way you could view this as an affront to anyone would be if you had a persecution complex