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.