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Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Obama

Description:  The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a lawsuit seeking to strike down the National Day of Prayer.

National Day of Prayer 2011 ad
Thursday, Apr 14, 2011
CHICAGO — The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit rejected a lawsuit filed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation that sought to strike down the National Day of Prayer. The court determined that “a feeling of alienation” was not sufficient legal grounds for the atheist group to file suit.

Alliance Defense Fund attorneys represented the private, non-profit National Day of Prayer Task Force in a friend-of-the-court brief filed with the 7th Circuit after prevailing in having then-chairperson Shirley Dobson dismissed from the lawsuit at the district court level.

“Public officials should be able to participate in public prayer activities just as America’s founders did,” said ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot. “The 7th Circuit has clearly understood that the Freedom From Religion Foundation simply had no legal standing to attack the federal statute setting a day for the National Day of Prayer simply because the group is offended by religion.”

The 7th Circuit vacated a federal judge’s ruling against the National Day of Prayer and sent the case back to district court with instructions to dismiss the lawsuit, originally filed against Dobson, President George W. Bush, and others.

In its opinion, the 7th Circuit found that “the ‘psychological consequence presumably produced by observation of conduct with which one disagrees’ is not an ‘injury’ for the purpose of standing…. Plaintiffs have not altered their conduct one whit or incurred any cost in time or money. All they have is disagreement with the President’s action. But unless all limits on standing are to be abandoned, a feeling of alienation cannot suffice as injury in fact.”

Last month, ADF attorneys authored a letter delivered to governors across the country, encouraging them to observe and participate in the 60th annual National Day of Prayer and explaining that they are on firm legal footing to do so.

On April 15, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb issued an opinion striking down the National Day of Prayer statute as violating the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Crabb put a hold on her ruling until all appeals in the lawsuit, Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Obama, are exhausted. The Obama administration appealed the judge’s decision to the 7th Circuit the week after it was issued.

In 1952, President Harry Truman signed into law a joint resolution by Congress to set aside an annual National Day of Prayer. Congress amended the law in 1988, which was signed by President Ronald Reagan, specifying that the annual event would be observed on “the first Thursday in May each year.” Historically, including 2010, all 50 governors, along with U.S. presidents, have issued proclamations in honor of the National Day of Prayer.

ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.

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ABOUT Kevin Theriot

Kevin Theriot serves as senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, where he is a key member of the Center for Life Team working to defend pro-life laws and speech and protect medical rights of conscience. He has litigated cases in the areas of religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and marriage and family. Theriot is admitted to the bar in eight states, the U.S. Supreme Court, and numerous other federal courts of appeal and district courts. Theriot received his law degree from Vanderbilt University and has been litigating First Amendment issues since 1993.