A Colorado appeals court ruled last week that the state governors' previous proclamations regarding the National Day of Prayer were unconstitutional as they implied a "government endorsement of religion over nonreligion."
The three-judge appeals panel described their decision in a 73-page report on Thursday, May 10, declaring that the Colorado Day of Prayer proclamations were unconstitutional because they implied that religious persons were more favorable in the state's political community than nonreligious persons.
"A reasonable observer would conclude that these proclamations send the message that those who pray are favored members of Colorado's political community, and that those who do not pray do not enjoy that favored status," Judge Steven Bernard wrote in the report.
"In doing so, they undermine the premise that the government serves believers and nonbelievers equally," he added.
Judges Alan Loeb and Nancy Lichtenstein were also on the appeals panel, and agreed with Bernard's statements.
The ruling is a result of a 2008 lawsuit filed by the by the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, a secular organization committed to the separation of church and state, against Colo. Gov. Bill Ritter.
According to the report issued by Bernard, Gov. Ritter, along with former Gov. Bill Owens, issued six National Day of Prayer proclamations to the people of Colorado from the years 2004 to 2009, encouraging prayer, citing specific Bible verses and using religious references.
Bernard and fellow judges ruled that these proclamations were "predominantly religious; they lack a secular context; and their effect is government endorsement of religion as preferred over nonreligion."
The United States' annual National Day of Prayer, held on the first Thursday of May, encourages Americans to offer up their grievances to God through meditation. It is organized in large part by the National Day of Prayer Task Force.
"The governor's office issued the six proclamations in response to requests that specifically state that the National Day of Prayer Task Force intends to use them for the purpose of promoting religion, worship and prayer," Bernard wrote in the report.
The National Day of Prayer was officially created in 1952 by a joint resolution of the U.S. Congress, and signed into law by President Harry Truman. Historically, all 50 governors, along with the president of the United States, have issued proclamations in honor of the National Day of Prayer.
Each year, the Alliance Defense Fund has assured governors that local observances of the annual prayer day are completely "constitutional" and "appropriate."
President Obama has signed an annual proclamation encouraging Americans to pray on the National Day of Prayer since taking office.
Previously, FFRF challenged Obama's proclamation of the National Day of Prayer in the 2010 court case FFRF v. Obama. Although the humanist group initially won the case, in 2011 the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the organization lacked standing to make the case.
The judges have now sent the case back to the trial court to determine if all governors of Colorado should be banned from making future National Day of Prayer statements.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is content with the verdict.
"We're exulting over the fact that reason has prevailed, and constitutional rights have been affirmed," stated Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the FFRF, on the foundation's official website.
Many see this ruling as another threat to religious freedom in the United States. Recently, President Obama announced his official approval of same-sex marriage, leading many to fear that his liberal position will result in a nationwide relinquishment of religious conviction.
"With this ongoing assault on the National Day of Prayer, as well as our hard-won religious liberties, we must remain faithful in prayer, and we hope millions will continue to join our NDP Task Force to that end," stated the National Day of Prayer Task Force, based in Colorado Springs, on their official website.
The task force requests that all those concerned with maintaining religious freedom in the U.S. urge current Governor John Hickenlooper and Colorado Attorney General John Suthers to appeal the ruling in the state's Supreme Court.