FFRF Sues Bush (Now Obama) over National Day of Prayer Proclamations

The Foundation, a national state/church watchdog, filed a federal lawsuit on Oct. 3, 2008, broadly challenging the federal law designating a National Day of Prayer and requiring a National Day of Prayer Proclamation by the President. In addition to suing Pres. George W. Bush (later amended to Pres. Barack Obama), the lawsuit named his press secretary, Dana Perino (amended to Robert Gibbs), Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle, one of 50 governors to also issue prayer proclamations, and Shirley Dobson, chair of the National Day of Prayer Task Force. Public Law 100-307 sets the first Thursday in May as "National Day of Prayer." The 1952 law, passed at the behest of Rev. Billy Graham, exhorts citizens to "turn to God in prayer, at churches." The Foundation sought a declaration that the law violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The suit alleged that a task force associated with Focus on the Family is "working hand-in-glove" with the government in organizing the National Day of Prayer. When FFRF, for pragmatic reasons, dropped the Wis. governor as a defendant, the court also dropped the NDP Task Force as a defendant. However, the judge permitted the case to continue and ruled that the plaintiffs — FFRF and six of his officers and board members — had standing to bring the suit.

In a historic decision on April 15, 2010, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb for the Western District of Wisconsin ruled in FFRF's favor, finding the law unconstitutional and enjoining Pres. Obama not to issue a prayer proclamation. Crabb stayed the order for the injunction during the appeal. On April 14, 2011, a 3-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit ruled that FFRF and its nonbelieving plaintiffs did not suffer any injury in being exhorted to set aside an entire day for prayer once a year by Congress and the President, and thus did not have standing to sue.

Case No. 08-CV-588

Press Release (Oct. 3, 2008)
Complaint (Oct. 3, 2008)
Amended Complaint (Feb. 10, 2009)
2008 Presidential Proclamation & all 50 2008 gubernatorial proclamations (pdf)
Federal Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Jan. 12, 2009)
Defendant Shirley Dobson's Motion to Dismiss Amended Complaint (March 9, 2009)
Defendant Shirley Dobson's Motion to Dismiss Brief (March 9, 2009)
Reply in Support of The Federal Defendant's Motion to Dismiss the First Amended Complaint (March 12, 2009)
Plaintiffs Brief in Opposition to Motions to Dismiss (April 7, 2009)
Exhibit A (pdf)
Exhibit B (pdf)
Exhibit C (pdf)
Exhibit D (pdf)
Exhibit E (pdf)
Exhibit F (pdf)
Exhibit G (pdf)
Exhibit H (pdf)
Exhibit I (pdf)
Defendant Shirley Dobson's Reply in Support of Her Motion to Dismiss First Amended Complaint (April 24, 2009)
Opinion and Order Re: Motion to Dismiss (May 26, 2009)
Plaintiffs' Responses to Federal Defendants' Statement of Proposed Findings of Fact (Nov. 16, 2009)
Plaintiffs' Brief in Opposition to Motion for Summary Judgment (Nov. 20, 2009)
Plaintiffs' Additional Proposed Findings of Fact in Opposition to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Nov. 20, 2009)
Deposition of Shirley Dobson (Nov. 20, 2009)
Exhibits for Dobson Deposition
Plaintiffs' Brief in Support of Judgment in Their Favor (Dec. 10, 2009)
Plaintiffs' Proposed Findings of Fact (Dec. 11, 2009)
First Opinion and Order (March 1, 2010)
Final Opinion and Order (April 15, 2010)

Before the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals

Brief for Appeal by Obama Administration, Defendant-Appellants, filed July 2, 2010

ACLJ Amicus Brief
Attorneys General Amicus Brief
Dobson et. al Amicus Brief
Justice and Freedom Fund Amicus Brief
Foundation for Moral Law Amicus Brief
National Day of Prayer Task Force Amicus Brief
Wallbuilders Amicus Brief

FFRF Response Brief, Sept. 30, 2010
Appendix to FFRF Response Appeal

Oral Arguments (Dec. 2, 2010)

Decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, April 14, 2011
Petition for rehearing en banc

Friend of the Court briefs in favor of FFRF

Center for Inquiry
American Humanist Association
Institute for Humanist Studies
Military Religious Freedom Foundation
Secular Student Alliance
Society for Humanistic Judaism
Americans United for Separation of Church and State
The American Civil Liberties Union
The ACLU of Wisconsin
The Interfaith Alliance Foundation
American Jewish Congress (and appendix)


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