DENVER — A nationally-recognized Christian legal group is defending the annual proclamations issued each year by the governor of Colorado in honor of the National Day of Prayer, which have come under fire by a prominent atheist activist organization.
Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) reports that it submitted a friend of the court brief to the Colorado Supreme Court on Friday in defense of the prayer proclamations, in which it represented a number of state officials and the National Day of Prayer Task Force.
In 2008, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) sued Governor Bill Ritter for “showing governmental preference for religion” by issuing the Day of Prayer designation, asserting that in doing so, Ritter violated the Religious Freedom Clause of the Colorado Constitution.
“The governor should be as free to issue prayer proclamations as the founders of America and Colorado were,” commented ADF Senior Counsel Joel Oster. “State and federal courts all over the country have repeatedly upheld and recognized such proclamations as a deeply rooted part of American tradition and history.”
In 2010, a district court ruled against FFRF, stating that it found no constitutional infringement.
“Plaintiffs argue that the proclamations excessively entangle government and religion because it facilitates the Colorado Day of Prayer festivities. In light of the fact that most festivities are planned well in advance of the proclamation’s issuance, this argument is not credible,” wrote Judge Michael Mullins. “Announcing that people will in fact gather to celebrate a public holiday does not necessarily involve the state in any way in the planning of religious activities.”
However, FFRF then appealed the case to the Colorado Court of Appeals, which overturned Mullins’ ruling.
“[The proclamations] encourage Colorado’s citizens to ‘unite’ with those who believe in God and pray to God for the benefit of our country, our state, our leaders, and our people. In so stating, they reflect an official belief in a God who answers prayers,” the three-judge panel wrote. “At the same time, for those who do not believe in such a God, the proclamations tend to indicate that their
nonbelief is not shared by the government that rules the State. In doing so, they undermine the premise that the government serves believers and nonbelievers equally.”
Therefore, the state then appealed the case to the Colorado Supreme Court, which has agreed to hear the challenge. ADF’s friend the court brief, filed on Friday, asserts that the court must look to notable Supreme Court rulings, which cited that even the Founding Fathers engaged in legislative prayer, and that the Establishment Clause evidently was not written for such incidents.
“As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor once observed, government acknowledgments of religion that date back to the adoption of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause cannot be said to violate it,” ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot stated. “We trust the Colorado Supreme Court will recognize the enormous weight of history and legal precedent on this subject and will uphold the governor’s freedom to issue prayer proclamations just as Colorado’s governors and officials have done since territorial days.”