Rick Rolls Over FFRF Lawsuit

Bad title. Whatever.

Two weeks ago, the Freedom From Religion Foundation sued (PDF) over Texas Governor Rick Perry‘s upcoming Prayer Rally, calling it a violation of church/state separation. They wanted to know why a governor was using his title to promote a Christian rally.

Today, a judge ruled against the good guys.

U.S. District Judge Gray H. Miller ruled that the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation did not have standing to sue.

The plaintiffs argued that the day of prayer and fasting the governor has initiated and promoted violated the Constitution. Randall Kallinen, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said that the Freedom from Religion Foundation was not trying to stop the event or prevent Perry’s participation, but was opposed to his involvement as governor.

In his opinion, Miller noted that attendance at the event is voluntary and ruled that the plaintiffs had not shown “a particularized concrete injury.”

I haven’t been able to find the ruling online yet. (The case is Staley, et. al. v. Perry and the number is 4:11-cv-02585.)

The standing issue is a weak reason to dismiss the case. It’s essentially saying, “I’m going to ignore the merits of your argument. You’re not directly harmed by the Prayer Rally, so why are you suing? Go away.”

Besides lack of standing, though, the other reason Miller tossed out the lawsuit was that the 7th Circuit had previously ruled that it was ok for President Obama to promote a National Day of Prayer. If he can do that, why can’t Perry promote this?

Frankly, he has a point.

But Obama’s wrong, too. Had our side won that case, it would be very tough to argue FFRF didn’t have a good point. This is precisely why it’s so important for atheists to file these kinds of lawsuits.

A lot of people complain about suing over the NDOP, claiming that no one is forced to participate and it does atheists no harm. But actions like those just set the precedent for future church/state violations. Our loss in the Obama lawsuit is coming back to bite us again.

FFRF is considering appealing the decision.

***Update***: FFRF responds:

FFRF plans to appeal to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals or to reconfigure the case so that it may be heard again. FFRF maintains that coercion into a religious practice is not required in order to bring suit under the Establishment Clause.

“Government endorsement of one religious view that excludes other religions and nonbelievers is enough,” said Dan Barker, FFRF co-president.

Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor attended the hearing in Houston and added, “Nobody would have trouble seeing the injury if a governor aligned himself with a radical Muslim group and used his office to call all citizens to a daylong prayer to Allah rally. This event is no different.”


About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Neon Genesis

    Is injury to intelligence not a good enough reason? 

  • http://dramatic-exaggeration.blogspot.com/ WhiteJM

    This is a new tactic. Ever since that one major case concerning school vouchers, courts have been ruling that people need specific standing and demonstrated injury to file suit over a violation of church-state separation, which as far as I understand it  wasn’t the case at all prior to that ruling.

    • Anonymous

      Standing it useful as it prevents just anybody from suing over something they don’t like. But there are cases like this were you wonder if there is anybody who could have standing

      • Anonymous

        Exactly. With this sort of church-state mingling, it’s not so much that individuals are harmed as it is the nation as a whole. It’s an affirmation of one religion that is harmful both to any not of that religion and to there secularism of the state.

  • Bergm138

    Standing isn’t that trivial actually, it’s a constitutional limitation on the power of the courts.  I think that “I don’t have the power to do anything about your complaint” is actually a pretty good reason to dismiss a suit. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/billyup Jesse Jones

    I was frightened for a second, by the title.

  • http://twitter.com/gordongoblin Gordon

    It is a shame that a country that should be so secular is instead so religious.

  • http://yetanotheratheist.com/ TerranRich

    I hope FFRF are never gonna give this up. They won’t let us down. ;)

  • http://twitter.com/DangerousTalk Staks Rosch

    We are hurt by not being granted equal endorsement by the Government. This amounts to free advertising that FFRF does not get. This advertising has a monetary value to it, therefore FFRF has standing. 

    • Peetoad

      Since it is endorsed by the govt.. All churches taking part should have their non-profit status revoked and be taxed on all current and future contributions. That is where our real damage is.

  • Kevin S.

    Standing is also what’s going to make the Prop 8 appeal DOA, granting tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of LGBT Californians the right to marry again.  I’m fairly certain ProtectMarriage’s standing is of crucial importance in that case.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/ChristopherTK ChristopherTK

    Very sad.

    Many, though not me, pleaded that the the FFRF hold off on their suit against the National Day of Prayer because of the likely outcome and the damage it would do to future cases. The 7th Circuit left our cause for reason weakened and, in our opinion, our nation as well. Now,  the negative consequences of that ruling are being felt in other suits, further weakening the separation of church & state in our governemnt.

    Sad indeed.

  • C. Mason Taylor

    Frankly, I’m very glad this was thrown out on the grounds of standing. I think one I’d the time to protest with words, not with the courts. I think there’s no way the FFRF wins this one, and we can’t afford to give the bad guys precedent to stand on in the future. This case just makes us look weak and weaselly.

    • C. Mason Taylor

      That should have been, “now is the time to protest…” not “one I’d”

  • Peter Mahoney

    Is there a way to sue a governor for misuse of govt funds? What if he used his tax-paid office, staff, website, etc to buy a hooker or cocaine? Would tax payers have “no standing” since the hooker/cocaine did not directly “harm” them???

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Brian-Macker/518709704 Brian Macker

    “But Obama’s wrong, too.”

    Surprised?  The guy belonged to a racist church for twenty years.     The church was headed by a racist Jeremiah Wright for thirty six year, and in 2008 switch to a new racist minister Otis Moss.    Like that fixes things.

  • Aggravated by this mess

    It is about time that a judge used common sense! Everyone is complaining about something. Are you saying that a govener cannot go to church? While we are at it why not prevent officials from being religious or going to church while we are at it too. Idiots! This group is a classic example of children who were not raise properly and grew up spoiled and became big babies a adults and covmplain about every little thing. ” oh it infringes this or unconstitutional that” how bout we pick up a common sense book an grow up! Science and religion can co exist btw!!


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X