Arizona slams courthouse doors on nonbelievers

The Arizona Court of Appeals on June 12 refused to declare unconstitutional the annual Arizona Day of Prayer proclamations by Gov. Jan Brewer.

FFRF had sued in January 2012 on behalf of its 500 Arizona members, its Valley of the Sun chapter, several named Arizona FFRF members and Maricopa County citizens of diverse religious beliefs. The superior court threw it out on standing in August 2012.

The appeals court decision by Judge Donn Kessler, while confirming that psychological injury from government action can provide standing for someone to sue, rejected FFRF’s claim of injury. FFRF contended that nonbelievers are sent a message that they are not welcome to fully participate in government processes.

“Can you imagine how the court would have ruled had Brewer issued a proclamation stating that prayer was futile and encouraged all citizens to take a day to refrain from prayer?” asked FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Slamming shut the courthouse door to prevent citizens from challenging government violations is the legal trend today, and it’s a trend everyone should decry. The Religious Right should take heed: The same rulings that bar atheists and nonbelievers from courthouse challenges will apply equally to aggrieved believers.”

Brewer has issued annual Arizona proclamations coinciding with the Christian-based National Day of Prayer on the first Thursday in May. She also had 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.”

“The ruling emphasizes an invented and heightened requirement for standing,” said FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott. “It says that plaintiffs must demonstrate behavior of avoidance of the violative conduct, or ‘that the alleged violation is so pervasive and continuing that it of necessity affects on a practical level how the plaintiffs interact with government.’ Challenges in religion cases have not required such a high hurdle to protect constitutional rights.”

Elliott added, “With the court’s view on standing, Arizona citizens are unable to challenge religious endorsements at the highest levels of state government.”

The challenge was brought by pro bono Arizona attorneys Richard Morris and Marc Victor.

Freedom From Religion Foundation