The Colorado Supreme Court announced May 10 that it will hear an appeal by Gov. John Hickenlooper of the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s solid appeals court victory declaring unconstitutional the governor’s annual Colorado Day of Prayer proclamations.
Hickenlooper and his predecessors, including Gov. Bill Ritter, annually issue proclamations encouraging Coloradans to pray on the first Thursday in May in conjunction with the National Day of Prayer. A unanimous three-judge panel of the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled last year that FFRF and four of its Colorado members have standing to sue over the proclamations and that the proclamations violate the Colorado Constitution.
On May 10, 2012, Colorado Appellate Judge Steve Bernard, with Judges Alan Loeb and Nancy Lichtenstein concurring, ruled in favor of FFRF, overturning a lower court decision. Bernard wrote: “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.”
The 74-page decision examined proclamations from 2004 to 2009, finding that they showed religious preference and endorsed religion. The decision noted that the proclamations conveyed a religious message, included “biblical verses and religious themes,” referenced uniting in prayer and have the governor’s imprimatur through use of his signature and seal.
Gubernatorial proclamations of a Colorado Day of Prayer have often embraced the biblical themes of the Colorado Springs-based National Day of Prayer Task Force, including this year’s proclamation which said in part, “The 2013 National Day of Prayer theme is ‘pray for America’ supported by Matthew 12:21 which reminds us that “in His name nations will put their hope.”
FFRF, a state/church watchdog based in Madison, Wis., is a national association of more than 19,000 freethinkers (atheists and agnostics), including nearly 600 members in Colorado. FFRF won a significant federal court victory in 2010 declaring the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional, which was overturned on other grounds. U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb had ruled, “The same law that prohibits the government from declaring a National Day of Prayer also prohibits it from declaring a National Day of Blasphemy.”
FFRF warmly thanks its Colorado plaintiffs: Mike Smith, Timothy G. Bailey, Lifetime Member Jeff Baysinger and David Habecker. The case is brought on behalf of FFRF by Dan Boniface, local counsel, and attorney Richard L. Bolton, Boardman Law Firm, Madison.