A number of national, local and campus organizations in the community of reason are getting behind a new idea, the first ever National Secular Service Day (NSSD), to be held October 18, 2009. This nationwide observance, initiated by the Harvard Secular Society, encourages the wide range of nontheistic and nonreligious people throughout the United States to get involved in community service.
The stated mission of NSSD, spelled out on its website, is "to unite secular groups across the country in the interest of public service, and to demonstrate our commitment to leading full and ethical lives." The leadership of the United Coalition of Reason found this mission consistent with its own: "to raise the visibility and sense of unity among local groups in the community of reason, to create a national dialogue on the role of nontheists in American society, and to improve the way that nontheists are perceived by average Americans." Therefore United CoR has given its full endorsement.
Some of the ways that individual secular organizations are planning to get involved include book drives, blood drives, and micro-finance loan campaigns. In the Greater Boston area, local freethought and humanist groups will combine their efforts through the new Boston Area Coalition of Reason to work together with local schoolchildren to cultivate garden space at Dharma Harvest, a nonprofit organization and farm based in Harvard, Massachusetts. It creates "edible schoolyards" and campus farms for the public schools. According to Sarah Tracey, director of Dharma Harvest, the Boston area groups will "start with an open field, with nothing, and transform it into what will be a productive, growing garden space."
According to the organizers of National Secular Service Day, the objective is two-sided. "I see NSSD as tackling a problem on both ends," said Kelly Bodwin, one of the undergraduates coordinating activities. "On one hand, we want our nonreligious community to be able to offer the same fantastic service opportunities that churches and religious groups are known for. On the other, we want to show the nation that we too are committed to charitable and ethical lives, with or without religion."
"United CoR encourages participation by all of its local coalitions of reason, whether these coalitions are established or just getting started," added United CoR spokesperson Fred Edwords. "Such work will combine reason and compassion to generate action. It is a great opportunity for unified local involvement, both this year and in the years to come."
"Humanists believe in life before death," said Greg Epstein, the humanist chaplain at Harvard University. "Because this world and this life are the only ones we’ll ever have, we have so much more responsibility to help each other and make the world a better place."
Epstein, whose chaplaincy is also co-sponsoring the observance, is author of the forthcoming book Good Without God, which William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins, will release one week after NSSD. Other cosponsoring organizations are the American Humanist Association and the Secular Student Alliance.