An atheist-agnostic group filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday in an effort to block Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s upcoming prayer rally next month.
The Madison, Wis.-based group Freedom From Religion Foundation called the prayer rally unconstitutional, saying it violates the Establishment Clause “by giving the appearance that the government prefers evangelical Christian religious beliefs over other religious beliefs and non-beliefs…”
Perry is partnering with the American Family Association and other faith groups to hold “The Response: A Call to Prayer for a Nation in Crisis” at Houston’s Reliant Stadium on Aug. 6.
"Right now, America is in crisis: we have been besieged by financial debt, terrorism, and a multitude of natural disasters,” reads the letter from Perry posted on the event’s website. “As a nation, we must come together and call upon Jesus to guide us through unprecedented struggles, and thank Him for the blessings of freedom we so richly enjoy."
In response to the lawsuit, Perry’s office issued a statement Wednesday declaring that the Aug. 6 prayer event will continue as planned.
“He (Perry) believes it will serve as an important opportunity for Americans to gather together and pray to God, seeking his wisdom and guidance as our nation navigates the challenges before it.,” reads the written statement. “The pending litigation does not affect plans for the prayer event.”
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The plaintiff, FFRF, describes itself as an association of freethinkers, including atheists, agnostics and skeptics. The group says it is a “church/state watchdog” and has more than 16,600 members nationwide.
Perhaps one of FFRF’s greatest victories, although short-lived, occurred last April when a U.S. district judge ruled that the federal law creating the National Day of Prayer was unconstitutional.
The Obama administration appealed the decision and attorney generals from several states joined in a friend-to-the court brief by the state of Texas supporting the National Day of Prayer. In April, the federal appeals court overturned the ruling, declaring that the plaintiff, FFRF, did not have sufficient legal grounds to file the suit.
Yet FFRF continues to file complaints to block public prayer events.
"The answers for America’s problems won't be found on our knees or in heaven, but by using our brains, our reason and in compassionate action," said Dan Barker, FFRF co-director, in a statement regarding the Texas prayer event.
"Gov. Perry's distasteful use of his civil office to plan and dictate a religious course of action to 'all citizens' is deeply offensive to many citizens, as well as to our secular form of government," Barker contended.
A judge is expected to be assigned to the lawsuit by the end of this week.