June 16, 2011
By FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor
The 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has just denied the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s request that it review the sloppy and unjust decision by its three-judge panel throwing out FFRF’s historic challenge of the National Day of Prayer. It’s important to note that the 7th Circuit did not rule that the National Day of Prayer is constitutional. They would not even consider the meritorious claims of our case. They ruled only that FFRF did not have the right to challenge the National Day of Prayer law at all. In effect, the courthouse doors are being slammed shut against citizens injured when the government dishonors the constitutional principle of separation between religion and government embedded in the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The appeals court panel had cavalierly tossed out the beautifully reasoned decision by U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb, in which she made a passionate defense of government neutrality in religion as the key to protecting freedom of conscience for all. Her decision was a succinct rebuttal of the Religious Right’s attempts to rewrite America’s secular history as one of official government-fostered devotion.
FFRF remains grateful to Crabb’s truth-telling decision, which thoroughly debunks the lie the National Day of Prayer was predicated on — the untruth that the founders prayed at the Constitutional Convention where they adopted our godless and secular Constitution. Crabb’s decision documents the law’s patently unconstitutional purpose, as suggested by evangelist Billy Graham, that it would be wonderful to see members of Congress on their knees praying to Jesus.
FFRF, its plaintiffs, its 16,500 members around the country as well as the 50 million nonreligious adult citizens in the United States, deserved better than to be told we have no rights in this matter. But the injury to our Constitution and court precedent is worse. It is not only FFRF and nonreligious Americans who should be concerned by the censorious direction of the U.S. courts. If FFRF and its members do not have “standing” — the right to go to court to challenge religion in government which injures our citizenship — than neither do theocratic groups, which are constantly in court trying to blend religion and government. The bad precedent being set works against the rights of religious or nonreligious citizens concerned with government speech, conduct and action over religion.
The 1952 law requiring the president to exhort citizens to pray, to turn to God in prayer and to set aside an annual Day of Prayer is patently unconstitutional. The First Amendment reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” Creating a National Day of Prayer and requiring an annual presidential proclamation is just such a law. FFRF will continue to pursue its two other National Day of Prayer challenges, one in federal court in Arizona and one in state court in Colorado. We will be looking closely at state and regional government establishments of the National Day of Prayer as well.
Meanwhile, apparently what the courts have shown is that there liberty and justice for all — all believers.