BY LINDA BENTLEY | AUGUST 15, 2012
Court dismisses Arizona Day of Prayer challenge
‘Uniting in prayer is a custom as old as our nation itself’
PHOENIX – On Monday, Gov. Jan Brewer issued a statement lauding Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Eileen Willett’s decision to dismiss the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s (FFRF) challenge to the constitutionality of gubernatorial proclamations designating an Arizona Day of Prayer.
Brewer stated, “I applaud the Arizona Superior Court for rejecting this lawsuit, which was little more than another sad attempt to stifle an American tradition.
“Uniting in prayer is a custom as old as our nation itself,” said Brewer. “For centuries, millions of Americans of every race, creed and color have come together in voluntary prayer to seek strength and wisdom. This is an American right and tradition, and one that I’ve proudly marked each year I’ve been governor by proclaiming an Arizona Day of Prayer.
“In these troubled times, it is more important than ever that we have opportunities such as this to freely and voluntarily come together in seeking courage and guidance from a higher power. I thank the court for dismissing this baseless suit, and will continue to vigorously defend our ability to commemorate an Arizona Day of Prayer.”
Willett found the FFRF lacked an injury sufficient to demonstrate they have direct or representational standing and stated, “In the absence of a particularized and concrete injury suffered by the plaintiffs, their claims cannot go forward.”
Willett pointed out in her ruling, “Plaintiffs have not alleged that they filed their claims in the capacity as taxpayers, nor had they shown a direct injury, pecuniary or otherwise.”
Because plaintiffs failed to demonstrate any exceptional circumstances or fundamental questions of statutory construction or constitutionality of a statute or government action, which was moot due to passage of time, Willett said there was nothing to support the court’s waiver of the standing requirement.
In granting Brewer’s motion to dismiss, with prejudice, Willett stated, “Further, plaintiffs’ declaratory relief claim seeks an unlawful advisory opinion and all past proclamations are moot. Plaintiffs’ claims seek relief the court cannot provide.”
This isn’t the first time the FFRF has sued Brewer for proclaiming a day of prayer.
The organization, which boasts a membership of over 16,000 atheists and agnostics in the United States, and more than 400 members in Arizona, professes to be “opposed to government endorsement of religion.”
The organization’s website states, “The FFRF has sounded the alarm bell on a multitude of other First Amendment violations. We act on countless violations of separation of state and church on behalf of our membership and the public, successfully correcting many violations through per-suasion and education.”
While the FFRF claims it’s “an educational watchdog organization working to keep church and state separate,” and asserts the proclaimed day of prayer, both at the national and state level, violate the First Amendment’s separation of church and state, there is no such statement in the First Amendment, which reads:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Proclaiming a day of prayer neither establishes a religion nor mandates anyone to participate.
The FFRF filed a complaint in U.S. District Court last year, seeking an injunction against Brewer issuing a proclamation for an Arizona Day of Prayer.
Because Brewer proclaimed an Arizona Day of Prayer in 2009, 2010 and 2011, the FFRF said, unless enjoined, Brewer was expected to issue a similar proclamation in 2012.
U.S. District Court Judge Roslyn Silver concluded the plaintiffs lacked standing by their failure to “demonstrate injury, causation and redressability.”
Silver cited the FFRF’s complaint against President Obama’s proclamation of a National Day of Prayer, in which the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the district court’s holding that it violated the Establishment Clause and remanded the case for dismissal.
The Seventh Circuit stated, “although this proclamation speaks to all citizens, no one is obligated 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 and other charities … No one is injured by a request that can be declined.”
In FFRF v. Obama, when plaintiffs alleged they were “injured because they feel excluded, or made unwelcome, when the president asks them to engage in a religious observance that is contrary to their own principles,” the Seventh Circuit responded, “hurt feelings differ from legal injury.”
Silver stated Brewer’s proclamations of a day of prayer “encourage[s] all citizens to pray for God’s blessings on our state and our nation.”
Quoting from the Seventh Circuit ruling, Silver said, “Though ‘encouraged,’ no one, including plaintiffs, is obligated to pray. Nor are plaintiffs forced to alter their physical routine or bear a monetary expense to avoid a religious symbol.”
Silver stated plaintiffs failed to identify personal injury.
In granting Brewer’s motion to dismiss, Silver wrote, “Plaintiffs lack standing because Governor Brewer’s proclamations do not injure plaintiffs. Without standing, the court need not address the merits of the case.”