FFRF rests its Colorado Day of Prayer challenge

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, which represents over 650 members in Colorado, plus a Denver area chapter, filed its final answer this month in the state’s appeal of its Colorado Day of Prayer victory in state appeals court. The case is now before the Colorado State Supreme Court awaiting a final ruling.

FFRF’s 46-page answer brief in Hickenlooper v. FFRF was filed on Nov. 8. A friend of the court brief also filed on FFRFs behalf, by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Colorado and Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Plaintiffs are FFRF, a national state/church watchdog based in Madison, Wis., with nearly 20,000 members, and individual Colorado FFRF members Mike Smith, David Habecker, Timothy G. Bailey and Jeff Baysinger.

On behalf of FFRF, attorney Richard L. Bolton, Madison, Wis., and local counsel Daniele W. Bonifazi, noted that the Colorado Day of Prayer proclamations serve only a religious purpose — to advance the views of the National Day of Prayer Task Force headquartered in Colorado Springs. The proclamations, as admitted government speech, are perceived as government support of the Task Force’s narrow brand of Christianity. Participation by government officials, especially state governors, is critical to the NDP Task Force efforts, which are Christian and exclusionary in nature.

“Religious zealots must place their faith in their own message, rather than trying to piggyback on the prestige and credibility of government endorsements,” FFRF submitted in its filing.

FFRF filed the lawsuit in 2008 in state court against then-Gov. Bill Ritter, Jr., who in 2007 had spoken at the Day of Prayer celebration on the steps of the Colorado capitol, stating that “We should be prayerful in all things.” A unanimous 3-judge panel of the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled on May 10, 2012, in FFRF’s favor: “A reasonable observer would conclude that these proclamations send the message that those who pray are favored members of Colorado’s political community, and that those who do not pray do not enjoy that favored status.”

On May 20, 2013, the Colorado Supreme Court granted Gov. John Hickenlooper’s petition for review. The court will decide whether to uphold the appellate decision, which held that FFRF and four of its members have standing and that the state constitution disallows the governor’s “Colorado Day of Prayer” exhortations.

The ACLU and AU’s friend of the court brief championed the standing of individual FFRF members to sue over this violation of Colorado’s no-preference clause: “A proclamation from the chief executive office of the state is a powerful symbol and places the imprimatur of the state on prayer as a mode of worship, a well as on the particular religious faiths supported by the proclamations.”

FFRF called the Colorado Day of Prayer highly divisive, and exclusionary of nonbelievers.

“We greatly appreciate the ACLU, the ACLU of Colorado and AU’s friend of the court brief, and the participation of our local plaintiffs, without whom FFRF could not challenge this state/church entanglement,” said FFRF Co-President Dan Barker.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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