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Secular Group Claims Arizona's 'Day of Prayer' Violates State Constitution

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    (Photo: REUTERS/Robert Galbraith)
    Arizona Governor Jan Brewer speaks at a news conference following a hearing over the state's SB1070 immigration law at the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, California November 1, 2010.
By Ray Downs, Christian Post Reporter
January 6, 2012|2:13 pm

Less than one month after a judge tossed out a previous lawsuit against the government-sponsored prayer event called for by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) is continuing its quest to end the "Day of Prayer." But the secular group is not alone – several local residents, including two Christians, have joined hands in a new lawsuit against the governor for allegedly violating Arizona's Constitution, which states that no public money may be used for religious purposes.

The difference between the new lawsuit versus the previous one is that the current suit challenges the governor specifically on the state constitution, rather than combining both federal and state claims, Patrick Elliot, staff attorney for FFRF, told The Christian Post.

“This case is under the state constitution,” Elliot told CP. “The prior case, because the judge ruled that there was no standing in the federal claims, there's no jurisdiction on the state claims. So this is addressing the Arizona Constitution.”

The lawsuit quotes Article II, Section 12, of the Arizona Constitution, which says, “No public money or property shall be appropriated for or applied to any religious worship, exercise, or instruction, or to the support of any religious establishment.”

In addition, the lawsuit accuses Gov. Brewer of disobeying a clause in the state's constitution that says “every inhabitant of this state, and no inhabitant of this state shall ever be molested in person or property on account of his or her mode of religious worship, or lack of the same.”

Elliot claims that the issue is not about prohibiting prayer of free speech, but challenging government speech.

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“Individuals have a right to say as they wish and to have free exercise,” Elliot said. “However, the government doesn't have the same right to encourage or exhort citizens to take on religious practice. And that's what this case is about.”

Elliot added that many Arizona residents feel the government should not be involved in religious activities, including religious people.

“There are Muslims, Buddhist, and Christians involved [in the lawsuit],” Elliot said. “A lot of people feel that the governor shouldn't be using her state office to advance her religious beliefs.”

However, opinion is mixed about the governor's day of prayer proclamation, according to Arizona's News Channel 3. In an interview with the local news station, resident Christina Cousins suggested people should not make a big deal out of Brewer's call to prayer.

“If you don't want to pray, fine. It's just like St. Patty's Day,” Cousins said. “If you don't want to celebrate St. Patty's day, don't. If you don't want to pray on 'Day of Prayer,' don't.”

Cousins' opinion was similar to that of the federal appeals court, which threw out FFRF's challenge to President Barack Obama's "National Day of Prayer" proclamation in April 2011 because the event is a request, not a demand, and people are free to make their own decision to participate or not, the The Associated Press reported.

In the dismissal, Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook wrote that no one is obliged to pray “any more than a person would be obliged to hand over his money if the president asked all citizens to support the Red Cross or other charities.”

 

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