FFRF goes after “Day of Prayer” in home turf of Christian right

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, whose April 15 victory in district court in Wisconsin declaring the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional created shock waves in the religious right, is taking its campaign to get religion out of government to the hometown of the National Day of Prayer Task Force.

The Foundation, a state/church separation watchdog with more that 14,500 members nationwide and 450 members in Colorado, has just placed red-white-and-blue messages saying “God & Government a Dangerous Mix: Keep State and Church Separate” on three prominent billboards around Colorado Springs, Colo.

The billboards went up at:

  •  Hwy 24 east of Academy Blvd.
  •  I-25 north of Garden of the Gods exit
  •  I-25 south of Circle Dr.

Judge Barbara Crabb ruled in Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Obama that in passing a federal statute declaring a National Day of Prayer and compelling the president to issue a proclamation exhorting citizens to “turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals,” Congress has overstepped the constitutional line.

“In this instance,” she ruled, “the government has taken sides on a matter that must be left to individual conscience.”

“Our goal is to get religion out of government, as the U.S. founders intended,” said Foundation Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “There is nothing more intrusive than a public law that exhorts Americans to pray, to set aside an entire day for prayer every year and to ‘turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals.’ “

The Foundation, which filed suit in November 2008 challenging the National Day of Prayer, enacted in 1952 at the behest of Rev. Billy Graham, alleges that the National Day of Prayer Task Force housed by Focus on the Family is “working hand-in-glove” with the government in organizing the National Day of Prayer. The task force was an outgrowth of the National Prayer Committee, which lobbied Congress in 1988 to change the date from a floating day to the first Thursday in May so they could better mobilize Christian prayer observances.

The Foundation initially named Shirley Dobson of the task force as a defendant, along with the president and his press secretary. Dobson testified in a deposition that she prays for God to tell her what the annual scriptural verse and theme should be for the National Day of Prayer proclamation submitted annually to the president. The group solicits proclamations from the president, which are then read by 40,000 task force coordinators at events around the country, including at the U.S. Capitol. The task force’s goal is to hold prayer services at all 50 capitols, and other government sites, including the Pentagon. Only those who conform to an evangelical belief of biblical errancy and “one true savior” may be coordinators, volunteers and speakers at events.

The Foundation also filed suit on Nov. 12, 2008 against Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter Jr., for showing governmental preference for religion in issuing National Day of Prayer proclamations in tandem with the National day of Prayer Task Force. The lawsuit in state court seeks to declare Day of Prayer proclamations and dedications by the governor in violation of the Religious Freedom clause of the Colorado Constitution, as well as an order enjoining him from issuing further such proclamations.

The Foundation noted that not only has Ritter issued official National Day of Prayer proclamations, but he appears to have aligned himself and the State of Colorado with a national observance called Reign Down USA, an evangelical movement that promotes prayer, ostensibly for restoration of the nation. Read about Colorado case.

A Foundation billboard was last placed in Colorado Springs in November 2008 when its “Imagine no religion” message with a stained-glass window motif, created some heat and hopefully some enlightening, too.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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