(Photo: REUTERS/Robert Galbraith)
A federal judge in Arizona dismissed a lawsuit Monday brought forth by an atheist group against Governor Jan Brewer over her issuing day of prayer proclamations.
Judge Roslyn Silver of the U.S. District Court of Arizona decided that the Freedom From Religion Foundation lacked legal standing, or the right to sue, when it came to Brewer issuing a “Day of Prayer,” as she has done on multiple occasions.
“Gov. Brewer's proclamations proclaim a day of prayer, and one proclamation encourages all citizens to pray for God's blessings on our state and nation,” wrote Silver.
Brewer responded in a statement to the ruling, saying, “I commend the U.S. District Court for dismissing this baseless lawsuit for what it is – a futile attempt to stifle an American right and tradition.”
“I thank the Court for allowing Arizona to continue commemorating this important right and custom.”
While many celebrated the decision, groups such as Americans United for Separation of Church and State disagreed with the judge’s reasoning.
“The plaintiffs should have had standing in this case,” said Rob Boston, spokesman for Americans United, to CP. “These proclamations are problematic because they amount to the government taking on a religious function, and they imply that government has some role to play in people's religious lives.”
Boston also looked with concern at the possibility that this case could be used to limit the number of future suits over matters like prayer proclamations.
“If the courts can limit standing in these types of cases, where will this lead? Who else will be told they have no right to sue?” said Boston.
“It's a shame because Americans should have access to the courts when their constitutional rights are infringed. Many of these cases raise compelling issues that deserve to be heard.”
While Boston was not pleased with the suit’s outcome, Kevin Theriot, senior counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, told CP that he believes the judge “got it exactly right.”
“The Establishment Clause doesn't give anti-religionists license to roam the country (and the internet) looking for things to be offended by, and then making a federal case out of them,” said Theriot.
“There is no right not to be offended in America.”
Theriot saw the result of the suit as a “very important step in limiting the ability of anti-religion activist groups like FFRF to harass state and local government officials who acknowledge our nation's religious heritage.”
“Certainly the government cannot tell people how, and to whom, to pray,” said Theriot.
“But government officials like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan have been encouraging people to pray for years because they believe it is helpful to our country and acknowledges our religious heritage.”
This is not the first time this year that Freedom From Religion Foundation was handed a legal setback on the issue of day of prayer proclamations.
In April, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a district judge’s ruling that declared the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional.
According to the opinion of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, “Plaintiffs have not altered their conduct one whit or incurred any cost in time or money. All they have is disagreement with the President’s action.”
“But unless all limits on standing are to be abandoned, a feeling of alienation cannot suffice as injury in fact.”
The 61st annual observance of the National Day of Prayer will take place on May 3, 2012.