A federal appeals court today ruled that citizens do not have the right to challenge the congressionally mandated National Day of Prayer (NDP), a decision Americans United for Separation of Church and State says is misguided and poorly reasoned.
The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed a legal challenge to the NDP filed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, holding that the group lacks “standing” – the legal right to sue. The court said that since the law creating the NDP requires the president to issue a prayer proclamation, only the president can challenge it.
Americans United said the ruling establishes a dangerous precedent.
“This decision is part of an ominous trend in the federal courts to deny Americans the right to challenge church-state violations,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case. “I don’t want the government telling me when, how or whether to pray.
“Under the court’s logic, Congress could order the president to declare the United States a Christian nation – and no one could challenge it in court,” Lynn continued. “That, to be blunt, makes a mockery of the First Amendment’s religious liberty protections.”
Lynn objected to the court’s assertion that religious proclamations issued by government cause people no harm. Rather, he said, they create the impression that some people (those who choose to pray) are insiders while everyone else is an outsider.
“Government shouldn’t be in the business of advising people to pray, period,” Lynn said. “Americans who want to engage in religious activities are quite capable of consulting the religious leaders of their choice.”
In April of 2010, a U.S. district court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Obama and declared the NDP unconstitutional.
The ruling sparked hostile comment from many in Congress and was appealed by the Obama administration. Americans United filed a friend-of-the-court brief before the 7th Circuit, asserting that the NDP is unconstitutional.
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.