FFRF brings new Arizona prayer challenge

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, its Valley of the Sun chapter and several FFRF members and Maricopa County citizens brought suit Jan. 4 against Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, challenging her annual Arizona Day of Prayer.

The new lawsuit focuses on two protections in the Arizona Constitution. Article II, Section 12, provides: “No public money or property shall be appropriated for or applied to any religious worship, exercise, or instruction, or to the support of any religious establishment.”

Article XX, Section 1, provides: “Perfect toleration of religious sentiment shall be secured to every inhabitant of this state, and no inhabitant of this state shall ever be molested in person or property on account of his or her mode of religious worship, or lack of the same.”

FFRF Co-President Dan Barker said that all citizens, not just nonbelievers, have an interest in protecting their rights of conscience. “This suit was brought by Arizonans who identify as atheists, Christians, Muslims and Buddhists.”

Brewer issued an Arizona Day of Prayer proclamation each of the last three years. The legal complaint says, “These days of prayer coincided with the Christian-based National Day of Prayer proclaimed by President Barack Obama, and as promoted by the National Day of Prayer Task Force, a private evangelical Christian organization.”

Brewer also issued a Day of Prayer for Arizona’s Economy and State Budget in 2010 encouraging “all citizens to pray for God’s blessings on our State and our Nation.”

“Exhortations to pray in official gubernatorial proclamations, directed at all the citizens of the State of Arizona, including these plaintiffs, promote and endorse religion, thus advancing religion in violation of the Arizona Constitution,” FFRF asserted in its legal complaint.

The suit asks the court to declare the prayer proclamations unconstitutional and to issue an injunction against future ones.

FFRF’s federal suit against Brewer’s prayer proclamation was dismissed on Dec. 9, 2011, when District Judge Roslyn Silver ruled that the plaintiffs did not have standing to bring the Establishment Clause challenge. The order did not address the merits of the case or state constitutional claims.

FFRF criticized the ruling and vowed to continue to challenge this violation of the constitutional rights of its nearly 500 Arizona members.

“We warmly thank our diverse plaintiffs and Arizona Attorneys Richard Morris and Marc Victor who are taking this lawsuit on FFRF’s behalf pro bono,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president.

Freedom From Religion Foundation