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Updated Jun 12, 2013, 12:57 pm Originally posted Jun 11, 2013, 2:55 pm
The Arizona Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that Gov. Jan Brewer can declare a state "Day of Prayer," tossing a suit by the Freedom from Religion Foundation that sought to declare the practice unconstitutional.
The judges ruled that the foundation did not prove that anyone had been harmed by the proclamations.
The decision found that Brewer's issuance of such proclamations isn't a foundation for a claim that non-believers suffer psychological damage because of a "message ... that they are not welcome to fully participate in government processes."
There is also no evidence that any of the plaintiffs are Arizona taxpayers who suffered financial losses, the judges said in a unanimous decision.
While psychological damage can be standing to sue, there needs to be a "distinct and palpable injury," the decision said.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation, a nonprofit "committed to the cherished principle of separation of state and church," filed suit in federal court in 2011 over the governor's actions. After that case was dismissed, a lawsuit in Arizona Superior Court, filed in August 2012, was also dismissed. The Appeals Court decision Tuesday upheld that dismissal.
"I applaud the Arizona Court of Appeals for rejecting this needless legal challenge to an American custom and tradition," Brewer said in a press release. "Given the plaintiffs' string of legal defeats in both federal and state court, I am hopeful today’s ruling will be the final word on this issue."
"This is an American tradition, and one I’ve been proud to commemorate each year I’ve been governor by proclaiming an Arizona Day of Prayer," Brewer said.
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Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, said Wednesday that the group was considering its options for an appeal to the state Supreme Court.
"The suit was filed because we firmly believe it is inappropriate and unconstitutional for the highest elected executive of a state to tell citizens and exhort citizens to pray, and not only to to pray, but to set aside an entire day a year to pray, and to also tell them what to pray about," Gaylor said in an email. "Gov. Brewer has no more right to do that than to issue a proclamation saying nothing fails like prayer and telling people not to go to church and not to pray. If she can do one, she can do the other."
"That's clearly wrong in a nation that values freedom of conscience, and which was established by a godless and entirely secular Constitution, whose only references to religion are exclusionary, such as that there shall be no religious test for public office," said Gaylor.
Gaylor said her group is a "freethought association which encompasses atheists, agnostics, skeptics, secular humanists, etc. ... Not all freethinkers would call themselves "atheists" (that's a matter of preference) but atheists are under the umbrella term of freethinker."
She said that 17 percent of Arizonans are "not religious" and that the FFRF has 500 members in the state.
Brewer proclaimed May 2 as this year's Arizona Day of Prayer.
Every president since 1952 has declared a National Day of Prayer, and governors in all 50 states issued similar proclamations last year, Brewer said.
The FFRF "filed a previous lawsuit in the State of Colorado and won a resounding victory there in their state court of appeals last spring. We just got word the Colorado Supreme Court has accepted the governor's appeal," Gaylor said.