PHOENIX — An appeals court has rejected a lawsuit filed by a prominent atheist activist organization which sought to challenge the statewide Day of Prayer proclamations issued each year by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer.
The Arizona Court of Appeals ruled unanimously that the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) of Madison, Wisconsin was unable to prove that Brewer’s proclamations caused any harm to unbelievers.
The panel said that the psychological damage cannot be claimed by the organization just because of a “message … that they are not welcome to fully participate in government processes.” However, the court noted that mental harm can serve as a standing to sue, but only if there is “distinct and palpable injury.”
The panel also stated that FFRF lacked standing in the case in relating to financial damages as there is no evidence that any of the complainants pay taxes in the state.
FFRF first filed the lawsuit in 2011, when it challenged Brewer’s annual Day of Prayer proclamations in district court. When the challenge was dismissed, it refiled in Arizona Superior Court. The court likewise tossed the lawsuit in August of last year. Therefore, FFRF took its claims to the Arizona Court of Appeals, which upheld the dismissal this week.
Following the court’s decision, Brewer issued a statement praising the judges for their “wisdom.”
“I applaud the Arizona Court of Appeals for rejecting this needless legal challenge to an American custom and tradition,” she wrote. “Given the plaintiffs’ string of legal defeats in both federal and state court, I am hopeful today’s ruling will be the final word on this issue.”
“For centuries, Americans of every race, creed and color have voluntarily come together to embrace a founding freedom and pray for wisdom and strength,” Brewer continued. “This is an American tradition, and one I’ve been proud to commemorate each year I’ve been Governor by proclaiming an Arizona Day of Prayer. It is all the more important during these troubled times in which we live.”
Brewer’s office also noted that the Day of Prayer is completely voluntary, although states nationwide observe the occasion.
“Citizens are free to commemorate – or not commemorate – the occasion in whatever way they feel is appropriate,” it said.
Since 1952, every U.S. president has signed a proclamation in honor of the National Day of Prayer, held each May. Governors in all 50 states issued proclamations last year, Brewer noted.
FFRF said that it is considering appealing the decision to the Arizona Supreme Court.
“The suit was filed because we firmly believe it is inappropriate and unconstitutional for the highest elected executive of a state to tell citizens and exhort citizens to pray, and not only to to pray, but to set aside an entire day a year to pray, and to also tell them what to pray about,” co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor told the Tuscon Sentinel. “Gov. Brewer has no more right to do that than to issue a proclamation saying nothing fails like prayer and telling people not to go to church and not to pray. If she can do one, she can do the other.”
Photo: Gage Skidmore