FFRF Pursues National Day of Prayer Case

The Freedom From Religion is vigorously defending its groundbreaking federal challenge of the National Day of Prayer.

The Foundation filed suit a year ago against both Pres. George Bush, his press secretary and Wis. Gov. Jim Doyle. It recently dropped its claim against Gov. Doyle in order to simplify the case. Pres. Obama and his press secretary, current defendants, have actively sought to squelch the case.

FFRF’s decision to dismiss the lesser aspect of its challenge was based on procedural issues raised by the State of Wisconsin, which potentially distracted from the core issues going to the merits of the National Day of Prayer proclamations. The dismissal was not based on concerns by the plaintiffs over the merits of the suit. In fact, the same issue is squarely presented in a Foundation lawsuit in state court in Colorado against the governor there.

“We are eager to see the merits of our challenge of the National Day of Prayer statute and proclamations heard in court, because the constitutionality of the National Day of Prayer proclamations has never been ruled on by a court,” commented Annie Laurie Gaylor, Foundation co-president.

Gaylor was deposed for five hours on Nov. 29, by a team comprised of a legal representative of the Obama Administration and an attorney for the Alliance Defense Fund, an ultra-evangelical legal arm. The fund is representing Shirley Dobson, director of the National Day of Prayer Task Force, which actively oversees proclamations by the president and all 50 governors. Dobson was named as a defendant by the Foundation due to the “hand-in-glove” relationship between her task force and the government. In 2008, Pres. Bush issued a proclamation largely written by the task force, which yearly suggests language for the pious events, including an annual theme and scripture verse.

The Foundation lawsuit has documented that the National Day of Prayer was suggested by evangelist Billy Graham. Congress passed legislation requiring the president to issue a National Day of Prayer in 1952, citing the erroneous claim that the founders prayed during the Constitutional Convention.

“It is shocking to see historical disinformation at the heart of this annual state/church violation,” Gaylor said. “Our Constitution is godless, and the Constitutional Convention which adopted it did not pray, and our membership most emphatically dislikes being enjoined to pray by the highest executive office in the land. It is so fundamentally overstepping boundaries, and is such a violation of personal conscience. The U.S. government should not be dictating to citizens that they ought to pray, much less telling them what they should pray about!”

Under Reagan, legislation was passed designating the first Thursday of every May as “National Day of Prayer.”

The Foundation has learned that the proposal for a fixed day of prayer was promoted by Vonette Bright, cofounder of the Campus Crusade for Christ, and the original director of the National Day of Prayer Task Force, part of the National Prayer Committee. Pat Boone, as chair of the National Prayer Committee, testified on behalf of the bill that having a fixed day of prayer would make it easier for religious groups to organize around that date.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., is a national association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics) that has been working since 1978 to keep church and state separate.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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