Challenges to national events recognizing our country's religious heritage
Whether those who are merely offended by public displays of religious expression can challenge them in court
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.” Freedom From Religion Foundation, filed a lawsuit challenging the event, claiming that government-issued proclamations encouraging citizens to pray are unconstitutional.
Alliance Defending Freedom represented Shirley Dobson, wife of Dr. James Dobson, who served on the National Day of Prayer Task Force and was named as a defendant in the lawsuit. The federal court dismissed all claims against Mrs. Dobson. On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit rejected FFRF's efforts 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.
Our role in this case
Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys represented the private, non-profit National Day of Prayer Task Force in a friend-of-the-court brief filed with the Seventh Circuit after prevailing in having then-chairperson Shirley Dobson dismissed from the lawsuit at the district court level.
“There are no atheists in foxholes,” the World War I chaplains used to say, and by a similar principle, it’s hard to imagine anyone looking seriously at the current state of our nation and not recognizing the need to pray.
On December 12, Judge Silver, a federal judge in Arizona, threw out a claim that Arizona Governor Jan Brewer violated the Establishment Clause by issuing day of prayer proclamations in observance of the National Day of Prayer.