FFRF Sues Bush (Then Obama) over National Day of Prayer Proclamations (2011)

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

Before the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals

Friend of the Court briefs in favor of FFRF 

Freedom From Religion Foundation