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Faith versus reason as atheists, Christians share the State Capitol

Thursday was a day of Days at the state capitol. 

The atheists — along with their “cousins’’ the humanists — were celebrating, for the ninth successive year, a “Day of Reason’’ in the state Capitol rotunda.

It was also, for the 63rd year, the “Day of Prayer.” And it also turned out to be Freedom Day. (There are all sorts of “Freedom Days” — the big one on Feb. 1 celebrates the 13th Amendment and slavery’s abolition. Thursday’s Freedom Day was obscure, with roots in the 1990s anti-environmental movement.) 

The Prayer Day people had crown-wearing Miss Minnesota, Rebecca Yeh, playing a patriotic song medley on the Capitol steps. A devout Christian, Miss Minnesota was adored by the prayer people.

The Freedom Day celebrants were represented by a group of Civil War enactors from New Ulm. They had two cannon with them. A couple of busloads of school kids, who were on the Capitol steps, screeched in delight when the Freedom Day squad fired off the cannon.

The atheists came to St. Paul armed with “reason,’’ which seemed to be enough to satisfy the 40 or so people gathered to counter the whole notion of a National Day of Prayer.

It should be noted that all of these events went off in peace and harmony, though Rep. Kurt Zellers, a Republican gubernatorial candidate who was at the Freedom Day event, said he’d be a little nervous if he was among the Capitol atheists.

“On the National Day of Prayer, I’d be watching out for a bolt of lightning if I were the atheists,’’ Zellers said. (He was laughing.) 

The National Day of Prayer, which began under President Harry Truman in 1952, has become a must-participate event for a lot of elected officials. There are “Prayer Day’’ breakfasts throughout the state and country. It’s pretty safe for a pol to be seen at a Prayer Day event.

In his State of the State address Wednesday evening, Gov. Mark Dayton made two references to the National Day of Prayer. He made zero references to the Day of Reason. 

The atheists don’t draw a lot of elected officials to their event. On hand Thursday were Reps. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, and Mike Freiberg, DFL-Golden Valley. 

“I’m extremely pleased to have a colleague here,’’ Kahn said, nodding to Freiberg. “His being here means I’ve doubled the numbers of House members present.’’ 

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie also was on hand, though it should be noted he’s not running for re-election. Ritchie is active in his Unitarian Universalist church and was vague about whether he would have attended this event if he was running again. 

As it was, the Secretary of State welcomed the atheists/humanists to “the people’s house,’’ where all ideas are free to be expressed.

Ritchie got a nice round of applause and disappeared quickly.

It might come as a surprise to many that the atheists speak well of Ritchie’s predecessor, Mary Kiffmeyer, who now is a Republican state senator from Big Lake and a devout Christian.

Miss Minnesota, Rebecca Yeh
MinnPost photo by Doug Grow
The Prayer Day people had crown-wearing Miss Minnesota,
Rebecca Yeh, playing a patriotic songs on the Capitol steps.

“Kiffmeyer spoke to us twice when she was Secretary of State,’’ said Steve Petersen, one of the leaders of Thursday’s event. “She told us she disagreed with us, but she also always said we have a right to be here.’’

The atheists and the humanists said they don’t come to the Capitol to agitate the Prayer Day people. Still, they must know it stirs up some juices when they talk of religion being “superstition.’’

The National Day of Reason is supposed to be a way of reminding people that there is supposed to be a separation of church and state as a bedrock of the democracy.

“For those so-inclined to prayer, let them pray in their churches in their homes, not the halls of government,’’ said Audrey Kingstrom, presidents of the Humanists of Minnesota. “Faith provides no common currency to govern all the people.’’

Shortly after the atheists and humanists left the building, the Prayer Day people were praying up a storm. Though Prayer Day is designed to represent all faiths and religions, this appeared to be a solidly, conservative Christian crowd at the Capitol.

What of the separation of church and state?

“The country was founded on Christian-Judeo values,’’ said Pastor Dale Witherington, an organizer of the Prayer Day event. “The laws are based on the Bible and the 10 commandments.”

Two state Republican senators, David Brown of Becker and Paul Gazelka of Nisswa, gave short talks filled with deeply Christian thoughts.

Miss Minnesota also spoke.

What did she think of sharing a day with the atheists?

“It’s an opportunity to show them what Christ has done in our lives,’’ she said. “We can show them the joy we have because of Christ in our lives.’’

But it appeared that most of those who publicly admit to being atheists had left the building.

Comments (13)

  1. Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 05/02/2014 - 09:18 am.

    “Christian” spokespeople

    When I was younger long ago the majority of Christians and Christian churches were part of what was called “the mainstream”. We/they believed in reason and science as well as faith and sought to reconcile the two. The literalists, the “born again”, were on the fringe. The nonsense of creationism and a 6000 year old universe was buried somewhere far away.

    If believing hocus pocus and reality-defying miracles is what makes a Christian, then count me out. It is too bad that over the last 40 years the former fringe has become, apparently, the mainstream and that “Christian” spokespeople are now the likes of Michele Bachman and the Focus on the Familiy people and all those fundamentalist, science denying people.

    Although I believe in many of those Christian values I learned as a child, I also accept what I learned in my eighth grade science class too. And in this climate I will keep my prayers between me and God and not parade them around the capitol.

  2. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/02/2014 - 09:29 am.

    Not even close…

    ““The country was founded on Christian-Judeo values,’’ said Pastor Dale Witherington, an organizer of the Prayer Day event. “The laws are based on the Bible and the 10 commandments.”

    There is no mention of any kind of the Bible or Jesus anywhere in the Constitution. The Laws are based on basic principles of rationalism and the Enlightenment. Laws based on religion have been declared unconstitutional time after time for over 200 years.

    You are welcome to your religious beliefs and practice of your religious values so long as you don’t harm others either directly or indirectly with discrimination. But you cannot require that everyone else live according to your religious values.

  3. Submitted by Mike Worcester on 05/02/2014 - 12:10 pm.

    Some Values Those Are

    “The country was founded on Christian-Judeo values,’’ said Pastor Dale Witherington, an organizer of the Prayer Day event. “The laws are based on the Bible and the 10 commandments.”


    I presume the good pastor was not referring to the “values” that dictated slaves were 3/5 of a person for counting purposes–or slavery was allowed to exist at all, that women had no right to own property or vote, or that the indigenous peoples of this land were considered savages. Just to name a couple.

    Because those certainly are not the “values” I was brought up with.

  4. Submitted by Beth-Ann Bloom on 05/02/2014 - 01:04 pm.

    Prayer Day vandals

    After praying, one or more of the participants in the Christian day of prayer at the capitol, went and stuck National Day of Prayer stickers over freedom to marry stickers on cars parked near our capitol . At least one person found it a golden opportunity to leave a homophobic note on a car windshield.

    Maybe they should have prayed harder about Christian teachings like love thy neighbor and judge not lest ye be judged.

  5. Submitted by Alec Timmerman on 05/02/2014 - 03:12 pm.

    My question

    No one has ever been able to explain what exact values make Judeo-Christian values different than just about every other faith and non-faith values. Doesn’t pretty much every culture have the no lie, cheat, steal, be nice and follow the golden rule? I really wish someone could explain what sets “Judeo-Christian” values apart.

    • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 05/02/2014 - 08:14 pm.

      And Answered

      You answered your own question: much as they would like you to believe otherwise, religion doesn’t have a lock on values. These are simply basic premises of any organized society. Seriously, do you need a religion to tell you not to steal or kill? If you look at any society that consists of more than one person we’ll see that they don’t want you to steal their stuff or kill the other people in the group.

      The whole premise that these are strictly Judeo-Christian values is a ploy to claim the moral high ground. People who make the claim want you to think they’re righteous and if you don’t agree with them, then you are the Other that is to be shunned from society. Drive out the heathens, the gays, the undesirables.

      It’s all a bunch of silly posturing by people who could just as easily pray in their homes and churches. There’s simply no need for them to demonstrate their irrationality in government buildings.

  6. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 05/02/2014 - 06:40 pm.

    What is atheism

    It is interesting to see that atheists call this day “the Day of Reason” implying that they are the reasonable ones. However, since it is impossible to prove the God’s existence, it is equally impossible to prove that God doesn’t exist. So for all practical purposes atheism is also a faith – in no gods, just as monotheistic and polytheistic religions believe in one or many gods..

    • Submitted by Susanne Wissink on 05/02/2014 - 08:02 pm.

      But they are the reasonable ones. By definition, faith is not reason; however, reason IS reason.

      Saying atheism is a faith is like saying not collecting stamps is as much a hobby as collecting stamps. Reason would dictate that your conclusion is wrong.

  7. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 05/02/2014 - 09:02 pm.


    Can Ms. Wissink prove that god doesn’t exist? If she can’t prove it, god’s non-existence becomes a belief by definition…

    • Submitted by Susanne Wissink on 05/03/2014 - 08:23 pm.

      Those are some pretty impressive mental gymnastics to conclude that NOT believing in a mystical sky daddy is also a religion.I don’t care whether gods exist. I don’t care whether you have faith that gods exist. I just would like my representatives to govern based on reason and science and not religion. I don’t think that is too much to ask.

  8. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 05/04/2014 - 03:02 pm.


    I also want to see my representative governing based on reason and science. I just don’t want atheists to think that they are the only reasonable ones…

    • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 05/05/2014 - 09:26 am.


      Religionists need to step up their game then and stop the anti-science rhetoric. Just a few issues to start with, but not limited to:

      -Global warming
      -Contraception, birth control, and sex education
      -Environmental preservation
      -Women’s reproductive process
      -What constitutes a baby vs a fetus
      -Capital punishment

      Need I go on or is that enough to keep you sputtering in indignation for the next six month? Perhaps you personally aren’t a member of the religious right who thinks global warming is some vast left wing conspiracy. If so, it’s up to you to help frame the debate and take back the discussion from your fellow religionists who are losing the debate for you, both morally and factually. Right now though the Sarah Palins and Rush Limbaughs of the United States are running the show and the Ilya Gutmans are being drowned out.

      • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 05/06/2014 - 08:09 pm.

        Please explain

        I just wonder what kind of the science is behind abortions and capital punishment that religionists do not accept. Plus I thought that Catholics are against death penalty…Please explain.

        As for global warming, that may be science. But connecting it to specific weather event is not and that was what the climate scientists tried to explain to us several years ago…

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