Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer asked a federal judge on Wednesday to throw out a lawsuit by an activist atheist organization seeking to block her from continuing her yearly call for a “Day of Prayer.”
The challenge, by the Freedom from Religion Foundation, a Wis.-based group, claims that the Day of Prayer the Grand Canyon State has observed for the past three years violates the First Amendment’s so-called “establishment clause.”
Brewer’s annual prayer proclamations, the FFRF complaint charged, “convey to nonreligious Arizona citizens the message that the Arizona state government expects them to believe” in God.
When public officials promote prayer, the lawsuit argued, it creates “a culture of government-sanctioned religiosity” and “a hostile environment for nonbelievers, who are made to feel as if they are second class citizens.”
The lawsuit against Brewer is the third filed by FFRF to stop public officials from proclaiming days set aside for prayer.
The group, which describes itself as the nation’s largest association of “free thinkers,” including atheists, agnostics and skeptics, has previously sued both President Obama and Colo. Gov. Bill Ritter for proclaiming a National Day of Prayer.
Last October, a Colorado court dismissed the legal challenge. The governor’s proclamation did not compel residents of the Rocky Mountain State to pray or not pray, the court held, adding that the decision ultimately was “left to the individual.”
In April of this year, a three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Madison, Wis., rejected the atheist organization’s claim that the constitutional rights of its members were abrogated by the president’s prayer proclamation.
There was no harm done to FFRF or the atheist community, the panel ruled, declaring, “Hurt feelings differ from legal injury.“
In Arizona, Gov. Brewer is asking the federal District Court in Phoenix to set aside FFRF’s lawsuit, as did the state court in Colorado and federal court in Wisconsin.
She maintains that the Arizona Day of Prayer is a voluntary event, like the National Day of Prayer, with residents free to choose whether or not to commemorate the occasion.
“This lawsuit represents nothing more than a sad and futile attempt to stifle an American right and tradition," Brewer said in a statement released Wednesday. She is optimistic, she said, “that the court will dismiss this organization’s baseless lawsuit.”