The National Day of Prayer looms less than two months off, and I find myself wondering whether the local freethought community really cares about it one way or another. We came out strong against government-endorsed prayer rallies back in 2002, protested in large numbers in 2003, and then got all interfaith about it in 2004. Back in 2005, we came out in force to support Americans United for Separation of Church and State, at a rally which featured the historical principle of separation as its central message, and the Rev. Dr. Barry Lynn as its keynote speaker. Our designated spokesman was also given an opportunity to make a short speech that year, in deference to the principle of inclusiveness and in defiance of the typical framing of the event, thereby prompting this mostly inaccurate and mildly humorous satirical bit of Chicken Fried News in the local weekly.
Ever since the high-water mark of 2005, we freethinkers have been increasingly sidelined as two kinds of believers flock to the State Capitol to rally for prayer: conservative Christians crying out for authoritarian orthodoxy and intemperate intolerance on the interior, and progressives preaching exuberant exhortations of ecumenism on the exterior. Oklahoma City’s dichotomous celebration has become an almost picture-perfect parable of political parochialism, insiders hosting high-ranking politicians endorsing a narrow message of Christian Nationalism and evangelical orthodoxy, while those on the outside gather together a motley assortment of minority faiths and retired or term-limited politicians who try valiantly to foster a spirit of interfaith dialogue. It may be somewhat disheartening to attend both events, as it tends to give one the sense that those on the inside are more numerous, well-connected, and just plain on fire about taking Oklahoma back from those of us who would tolerate diversity of thought and freedom of conscience.
That said, the question facing us this year is whether we will once again join in with an interfaith prayer rally which has arguably strayed from its roots as a celebration of separation, or will we return to our roots as a group which protests public prayer proclamations and celebrations as a massive waste of time and taxes?