FFRF Sues Colorado Governor Over Prayer Proclamations

FFRF’s Second Challenge of National Day of Prayer

(MADISON, WIS.) The Freedom From Religion Foundation, with the help of Denver-area members and plaintiffs, is suing Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter Jr., for showing governmental preference for religion in issuing National Day of Prayer proclamations in tandem with the National Day of Prayer (NDP) Task Force.

The Foundation, a state/church watchdog which is also the nation’s largest association of freethinkers (atheists and agnostics), filed the lawsuit yesterday in state court in Denver, both on behalf of four named plaintiffs and its more than 400 Colorado members.

The lawsuit seeks to declare Day of Prayer proclamations and dedications by Gov. Ritter in violation of the Religious Freedom clause of the Colorado Constitution, and seeks an order enjoining him from issuing further such proclamations.

The Complaint notes that not only has Ritter issued official National Day of Prayer proclamations, but he appears to have aligned himself and the State of Colorado with a national observance called Reign Down USA, an evangelical movement that promotes prayer, ostensibly for restoration of the nation.

The Complaint charges that Ritter attended a 2007 National Day of Prayer Capitol Event on the Capitol lawn in Denver, advocating prayer, then read his official proclamation “intended as a day for Americans to celebrate rights purportedly endowed by their Creator.” Another National Day of Prayer event was conducted at the Capitol in 2008, along with 70 other events held in Colorado on May 1.

”Governor Ritter’s designations of a Day of Prayer have the intent and the effect of giving official recognition to the endorsement of religion. Prayer is an inherently and quintessentially religious activity. Exhortations to pray in official Proclamations, directed at the citizens of the State of Colorado, including plaintiffs and other members of FFRF, constitute an end in themselves intended to promote and endorse religion.”

The Foundation charges that Ritter “engages in joint and concerted action” with the Christian-based NDP Task Force, whose evangelical mission is to “communicate with every individual the need for personal repentance and prayer.” Its chairperson, Shirley Dobson, is married to Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, and the task force is located in the Focus on the Family headquarters. The Christian-based NDP Task Force’s stated belief is that “the United States was birthed in prayer and in reverence for the God of the bible.”

“Governor Ritter’s alliance with the NDP Task Force creates the intended impression that the NDP Task Force and the State of Colorado are working hand-in-glove in sponsoring the Colorado Day of Prayer and the National Day of Prayer,” says the Foundation.

The task force proposes the wording of proclamations and chooses a yearly theme and a bible quote. In 2008, Psalm 28:7, “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him and I am helped” was selected by the NDP as its official biblical reference, and was duly recited in Ritter’s proclamation.

“The actions of Governor Ritter in issuing Prayer Proclamations, including those that expressly incorporate references to the NDP Task Force’s selected biblical precepts, constitute the endorsement of religion by Governor Ritter and the State of Colorado in violation of the Colorado Constitution’s Religious Freedom clause.”

Such proclamations reflect the official policy of the government that religion is preferred over nonreligion, and turns nonbelievers into “political outsiders.”

The Foundation warmly thanks its Colorado plaintiffs: Mike Smith, Timothy G. Bailey, Jeff Baysinger—a Lifetime Member, and David Habecker. Habecker, an agnostic who supports the secular basis of the Constitution, was removed from office several years ago by a recall in Estes Park, Colo., for failure to recite the religious Pledge of Allegiance.

The Foundation filed a similar but more sweeping challenge of the prayer proclamations in a federal lawsuit on Oct. 3, naming Pres. George W. Bush, Wis.Gov. Jim Doyle and the National Day of Prayer Taskforce chairwoman Shirley Dobson as defendants. Read that Complaint and all 50 of the 2008 National Day of Prayer Proclamations issued by U.S. governors.

The Colorado lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Foundation by attorney Robert R. Tiernan of Denver and attorney Rich Bolton of Madison, Wis.

Read FFRF v. Ritter Complaint Case No. 08CV9799 (pdf).

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., is a national association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics) that has been working since 1978 to keep church and state separate.
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FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

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