For Immediate Release
Contact: Paul Fidalgo
Phone: (207) 358-9785
April 16, 2010
The Center for Inquiry (CFI) applauds the April 15 ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Barbara B. Crabb of the Western District of Wisconsin striking down the federal statute designating a yearly National Day of Prayer. CFI believes this ruling represents an important step toward achieving a secular state in which the government takes no position on religious issues, which is one of the purposes of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause.
Judge Crabb's decision granted summary judgment to the plaintiffs in Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Obama . FFRF originally filed the lawsuit in 2008 against the Bush administration to prevent the government from declaring the National Day of Prayer.
In her ruling , Judge Crabb acknowledged that under legal precedent, "some forms of 'ceremonial deism,' such as legislative prayer, do not violate the establishment clause." She said that the National Day of Prayer, however, is different. "It goes beyond mere acknowledgment of religion because its sole purpose is to encourage all citizens to engage in prayer, an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function in this context. In this instance, the government has taken sides on a matter that must be left to individual conscience."
CFI’s president and CEO Ronald A. Lindsay called the decision “a long overdue recognition by the federal courts that the government should stay out of the prayer business entirely,” adding further that “determining which religious exercises to engage in—if any—is a matter best left to the conscience of the individual. The government should not tell us to pray—or tell us not to pray. We can decide for ourselves.”
Congress established the National Day of Prayer in 1952 and in 1988 designated the first Thursday in May as the day for presidents to issue proclamations urging Americans to pray. The supporting statute stated that “The President shall issue each year a proclamation designating the first Thursday in May as a National Day of Prayer on which the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals.” This year's National Day of Prayer falls on May 6.
An order accompanying Judge Crabb's opinion prohibits the government from enforcing the statute. The injunction is delayed, however, until the conclusion of any appeals by the defendants. The court's decision is controlling only within the Western District of Wisconsin, although it does provide persuasive authority for other courts that may hear similar legal challenges. An appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit is virtually certain to follow. The case might then be heard before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Derek C. Araujo, CFI’s general counsel, added that “This decision is a great victory for defenders of the Constitution, both secular and religious. Government has no business meddling in people’s decisions to worship or not as they choose.”
The Center for Inquiry/Transnational, a nonprofit, educational, advocacy, and scientific-research think tank based in Amherst, New York, is also home to the Council for Secular Humanism, founded in 1980; and the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (formerly CSICOP), founded in 1976. The Center for Inquiry’s research and educational projects focus on three broad areas: religion, ethics, and society; paranormal and fringe-science claims; and sound public policy. The Center’s Web site is http://www.centerforinquiry.net .