A federal court has rejected of a lawsuit that sought to remove President Barack Obama’s right to proclaim the National Day of Prayer.
Kevin Theriot, senior counsel at the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Alliance Defense Fund legal group, praised the decision.
“Public officials should be able to participate in public prayer activities just as America’s founders did.”
A three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Madison, Wis.-based Freedom from Religion Foundation lacked standing to sue.
“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,” the court said in an opinion by Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook. “A feeling of alienation cannot suffice as injury.”
The proclamation is a request, not a demand, and citizens are not 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,” Judge Easterbrook said.
The court returned the case to district court with instructions to dismiss the lawsuit.
Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said that the decision was “part of an ominous trend in the federal courts to deny Americans the right to challenge church-state violations.” His group filed a brief in support of the case.
The Alliance Defense Fund’s Theriot defended the decision, saying:
“The 7th Circuit has clearly understood that the Freedom From Religion Foundation simply had no legal standing to attack the federal statute setting a day for the National Day of Prayer simply because the group is offended by religion.”
The 7th Circuit panel’s opinion cited President Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address, which mentions God seven times and prayer three times. The address is chiseled in stone at the Lincoln Memorial, Judge Easterbrook noted.
“An argument that the prominence of these words injures every citizen, and that the Judicial Branch could order them to be blotted out, would be dismissed as preposterous,” the decision said.
In April 2010 U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb had ruled that the day of prayer was unconstitutional because it amounts to a call for religious action. She said the government cannot enact laws supporting a day of prayer any more than it can encourage citizens to fast during Ramadan, attend a synagogue or practice magic.
President Harry Truman in 1952 signed into law a joint resolution by Congress to set aside an annual National Day of Prayer. Congress amended the law in 1998, specifying that the event should take place on the first Thursday in May each year.
Historically, all 50 governors and U.S. presidents have issued proclamations in honor of the National Day of Prayer.