The Colorado Supreme Court will hear oral argument May 1 in Gov. John Hickenlooper’s appeal of a unanimous state Court of Appeals decision ruling in favor of the Freedom From Religion Foundation against a “Colorado Day of Prayer.”
The Court of Appeals ruled in 2012 that gubernatorial proclamations designating a “Colorado Day of Prayer” each year violate the state Constitution. Coincidentally, the case is being argued on the first Thursday in May, which is proclaimed as a “Colorado Day of Prayer” by the governor and a “National Day of Prayer” by Congress.
In the lead appellate opinion, Judge Steve Bernard wrote, “[T]he six Colorado Day of Prayer proclamations [2004-09] at issue here are governmental conduct that violate the Preference Clause [of the Religious Freedom section of Colorado’s Constitution].” The content is “predominantly religious; they lack a secular context; and their effect is government endorsement of religion as preferred over nonreligion.”
The proclamations “have the primary or principal effect of endorsing religious beliefs because they convey or attempt to convey a message that religion or a particular religious belief is favored or preferred.” The appellate decision noted that the “inclusion of biblical verses and religious themes,” statements urging “that individuals will unite in prayer” and the governor’s signature, imprimatur and seal make “no doubt here that the religious message is attributed to the Governor.” In May 2013, the Colorado Supreme Court granted the state’s petition for review. The court will decide whether to uphold the appellate decision, which ruled that FFRF and four of its members had standing and that the state Constitution disallows the governor's prayer exhortations. FFRF’s litigation attorney, Richard Bolton, will argue the case.
“We want to see reason prevail and constitutional rights of citizens affirmed by the court,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of FFRF, a Madison, Wis.–based state-church watchdog with more than 20,000 members nationwide and about 600 in Colorado.
Oral argument is being held in the La Junta Junior/Senior High School in La Junta as part of an education outreach program by Colorado courts. More information on the case is here.