Atheist group sues governor over prayer day
by Ginger Rough - Mar. 16, 2011 05:06 PM
The Arizona Republic
Gov. Jan Brewer is being sued for issuing proclamations in support of an Arizona
Day of Prayer.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in federal court, alleges that Brewer's actions were
unconstitutional because they violate the Establishment Clause of the First
Amendment, which prohibits Congress from establishing a state religion. The
lawsuit seeks an injunction preventing the governor from issuing similar
proclamations in the future.
"This is not about money. This is about trying to get the right thing done,"
said a Chandler attorney who brought the suit on behalf of three
Maricopa County residents and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a
Wisconsin-based group of atheists and agnostics.
Victor said his clients believe it is "completely inappropriate for the governor
to be declaring days of prayer" in her official capacity as the state's chief
executive. But he added, "We are just as much in favor of people exercising
their right to pray as we are equally in favor of keeping government out of
everyone else's business."Brewer has declared an Arizona Day of Prayer twice
since assuming the governor's seat two years ago. Both instances coincided with
the National Day of Prayer, which is also facing a legal challenge from the same
organization. In addition, Brewer proclaimed a day of prayer for the budget on
Jan. 17, 2010, according to the lawsuit.
Matthew Benson, Brewer's spokesman, said Wednesday that her office had not yet
seen the suit, but would vigorously defend it.
"Public calls to prayer are an honored American tradition dating back to George
Washington," Benson said, adding that the call to prayer for the budget was
appropriate. "Absolutely, I think in these days of fiscal crisis, there is
nothing wrong with Arizonans, if they choose, praying for the wisdom to solve
the problems facing the state."
Congress established the National Day of Prayer in1952 and in 1988 set the first
Thursday in May as the day for presidents to issue prayer-related proclamations.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a lawsuit against the federal
government in late 2008, saying the day violated the separation of church and
Last spring, a federal district judge in Wisconsin handed the group a court
victory when she ruled the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional. The case is
currently being appealed, and prayer related events are still being held as the
case works its way through the courts.
Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy, a conservative
non-profit advocacy group, called the lawsuit against Brewer "frivolous," and
said days of prayer are a part of the nation's history.
"Our founding fathers opened their meetings with prayer - there is a
long-standing tradition of religious invocation (in this country), and this is a
day that goes to our nation's foundation and heritage," said Herrod, who added
that her group would closely monitor the lawsuit against Brewer.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation also has a case pending against former
Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter over his decision to proclaim a day of prayer in that
state in 2008. A judge has dismissed the organization's arguments, but the group
is appealing, said Annie Laurie Gaylor, the organization's co-president.