Appeals court tosses out prayer day challenge

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 14, 2011 1:01 PM
Appeals court tosses out prayer day challenge

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court on Thursday overturned a ruling that had found unconstitutional a law that requires the president to proclaim a national day of prayer each year.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, based in Chicago, said the group that brought the challenge had no standing to do so because the law commanded only the president to take action.

The proclamation imposes no requirement on a person and therefore no one is hurt by a request that can be declined, the appeals court ruling said. The court reversed the decision of a federal judge in Wisconsin and ordered the case be dismissed.

"Those who do not agree with a president's statement may speak in opposition to it, they are not entitled to silence the speech of which they disapprove," wrote the appeals court's chief judge Frank Easterbrook, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan.

Congress enacted a law in 1988 that set the first Thursday in May as the appropriate day for a national day of prayer and instructed the president to issue a proclamation.

President Barack Obama issued one on April 30, 2010 that called on Americans "to pray, or otherwise give thanks, in accordance with their own faiths and consciences, for our many freedoms and blessings ..." on May 6, 2010.

The challenge to the law was brought by the Freedom From Religion Foundation Inc group on the grounds that it violated the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment that sought to ban the federal government from establishing or supporting a national religion.

One of the organization's co-presidents, Annie Laurie Gaylor, criticized the appeals court decision, saying that the law affected thousands of people who do not believe in religion or God and that it was a clear violation of the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment.

The law tells citizens what to pray about, how is that constitutional?" Gaylor said. "We have such a strong case," she said, adding that the group planned to ask the full appeals court to consider the case.

The case is Freedom From Religion Foundation Inc. v. Barack Obama and Robert Gibbs, No. 10-1973 in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit.

(Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky; Editing by Eric Walsh)