Discrimination or Celebration?

While looking through news articles on yesterday's National Day of Prayer, I came across a group that has declared its own National Day of Reason to create a more "inclusive" alternative for our country.

Of course, by "reason" they mean "naturalism," as this statement reveals:  "Calling upon a deity to bestow supernatural powers hardly seems appropriate at such a high level of our government."  (In other words, religious ideas are unreasonable and unbefitting intelligent, sophisticated people.)  This being the case, their proposal hardly seems more "inclusive" than the National Day of Prayer!

In a statement on their site titled "What's Wrong with the National Day of Prayer?" they list their many reasons, but a couple of them that have to do with exclusion and discrimination caught my eye.

Here's the first: 

The National Day of Prayer makes those who don't pray feel like second-class citizens. Why set aside a national day that needlessly excludes?

One might as well say that Thanksgiving "needlessly excludes" because it makes those who don't have a reason to give thanks and/or who don't like to go through the usual Thanksgiving rituals feel like second-class citizens because they don't take part.  But the day exists for those to celebrate who wish to celebrate.  When all are invited, those who do not celebrate are not being excluded; they are simply choosing not to take part because they don't want to.  I can't see how this makes them second-class citizens.

This one is even more curious:

Government also violates the First Amendment with the National Day of Prayer by acting to promote a certain manifestation of religion. It emphasizes only one form of religious practice, and therefore discriminates against the many others, including alms giving, social justice, fasting, peace activism and meditation.

So setting aside a day for prayer doesn't just discriminate against non-praying people, it also discriminates against non-prayer practices.  I think I'm starting to see with both of these examples a serious misunderstanding of the concept of "discrimination."  Discrimination (at least, in the sense in which they're using the word) is when you set out to exclude somebody--when you prevent them from taking part in something.  However, the honoring of one thing on a particular day is not a purposeful exclusion but a specific celebration.  There's a huge difference!

Here's an illustration to explain what I mean:  Imagine a child's birthday party.  There are many children there, but only one of them has a birthday on that specific day.  Would you say the other children are being wrongly discriminated against because they're not being honored on that day?  Of course not.  On that day, their friend receives the presents and the attention because that is the day designated to celebrate her birth.  This is certainly no statement about the value or lack of value of the other children.

And on the side of the attendees, though her entire class is invited, if a few children do not come to her party because they don't like her, are they being discriminated against?  Or are they simply choosing not to join the celebration?  Should their choice to not take part determine for everyone else whether or not the girl should have a party at all?

What would you think of a boy who insisted that the birthday girl should not have a party because he doesn't like her, and therefore he can't attend (though he is invited), and therefore said party would wrongly exclude him from his community of classmates?  Or what of a girl who complained that she was being discriminated against because the birthday girl was receiving all the presents that day and nobody was giving her any?  Is there anyone who can't see the narcissism of this?

I think when we look at how the principles behind the two reasons I quoted from the website would play out in the birthday party scenario, we can see more clearly that 1) a person who chooses on his own not to take part in something is not suffering from discrimination or being excluded, and 2) taking a specific time to honor a specific person or thing does not "discriminate" against or "exclude" the other people and things that are present.

Amy K. Hall

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