The Freedom From Religion Foundation’s lawsuit challenging Texas Gov. Rick Perry's sponsorship of an Aug. 6 prayer event at Reliant Stadium in Houston was dismissed July 28 by U.S. District Judge Gray Miller, who ruled that the plaintiffs lack standing.
FFRF and five of its Houston members sued to block Perry from continued endorsement of the Christian event titled “The Response.” Miller (appointed in 2006 by President Bush) declined to grant a restraining order against the governor and dismissed the suit, saying that the plaintiffs had not been coerced into attending the rally. The judge did not address the merits of the case.
FFRF plans to appeal to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals or to reconfigure the case so that it may be heard again. FFRF maintains that coercion into a religious practice is not required in order to bring suit under the Establishment Clause.
“Government endorsement of one religious view that excludes other religions and nonbelievers is enough,” said Dan Barker, FFRF co-president.
Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor attended the hearing in Houston and added, “Nobody would have trouble seeing the injury if a governor aligned himself with a radical Muslim group and used his office to call all citizens to a daylong prayer to Allah rally. This event is no different.”
The lawsuit challenged Perry's numerous acts of sponsorship of the “The Response” and endorsement of the American Family Association, including the governor’s use of the state seal of Texas on promotional materials and invitation letters, the governor’s proclamation, his video invitation and robo-calls urging people to attend.
The Response website has called Perry the “initiator” of the prayer and fasting event. The governor’s staff admitted in an affidavit that much of the governor’s support for the event was in his official capacity as governor. The suit alleges Perry's actions sent an impermissible “message that believers in religion are political insiders, and nonbelievers are political outsiders.”
FFRF is considering how to proceed with the case. “We are extremely concerned with the continual attempts to slam shut the courthouse door to even hearing these important constitutional issues,” said Barker.
FFRF will be holding a tongue-in-cheek private “dinner of nonprayer and nonfasting” Aug. 5 for Houston-area members to honor the local co-plaintiffs in the case.
Barker and Gaylor will be leading a FFRF contingent meeting at Reliant Stadium on Aug. 6 at 8 a.m. FFRF plans to unveil on that date some other secular responses to the governor’s unprecedented role in calling, initiating and publicizing a religious prayer event.