Arizona Governor Sued Over Constitutionality of ‘Day of Prayer’

Last Tuesday, the Freedom From Religion Foundation sued (PDF) to prevent Arizona Governor Jan Brewer from holding another Day of Prayer:

FFRF claims that the Day of Prayer proclamation violates Article II, Section 12 in the Arizona Constitution…

No public money or property shall be appropriated for or applied to any religious worship, exercise, or instruction, or to the support of any religious establishment.

… and Article XX, Section 1:

Perfect toleration of religious sentiment shall be secured to every inhabitant of this state, and noinhabitant of this state shall ever be molested inperson or property on account of his or her mode ofreligious worship, or lack of the same.

The complaint alleges breach of these sections but cites no relevant state case law, so I did a little looking of my own. (It also cites the Treaty of Tripoli and Thomas Jefferson’s “wall of separation” letter, but those are not likely to be very persuasive.)

You might think the fact that the FFRF goes after the Arizona Constitution should make this a more open-and-shut case, but it’s not as airtight as you might think. In spite of the fact that states are free to expand rights beyond the federal guarantees, many (if not most) states simply apply federal decisions to state issues and call it a day.

Arizona is no exception, based on my research. What that means for this most recent FFRF lawsuit is that the state court will probably not depart from the federal court’s decision on the last FFRF challenge to a Day of Prayer.

The Arizona District Court ruled then that FFRF didn’t have standing to challenge the proclamation, and so they turned to the state Constitution. However, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals (which encompasses Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin) overturned a district court there that ruled the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional.

So, even though it appears to be a clear establishment of religion (remember that advancement of religion prong of the Lemon test?), it seems unlikely that FFRF will prevail on this issue.

Not to say that they shouldn’t. Most defenders of the Day of Prayer contend that it’s a “request” to pray, not a command, and that lack of penalty for non-compliance negates any claim of injury. Judge Barbara Crabb of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin disagrees.

She aptly pointed out back in 2010:

However, recognizing the importance of prayer to many people does not mean that the government may enact a statute in support of it, any more than the government may encourage citizens to fast during the month of Ramadan, attend a synagogue, purify themselves in a sweat lodge or practice rune magic.

(I particularly enjoy her comparison between praying and magic…)

At any rate, Governor Brewer exhibits a very poor understanding of the function of the courts in a democratic society. She says that lawsuit is “frivolous” and unfounded because “of course, it’s something that a majority of Americans, a majority of Arizonans, all support…”

Theocrats so frequently fail to grasp the meaning of the phrase “majority rule, minority rights” and the integral role it plays in our constitutional representative democracy.

Speaking of theocrats, an Alliance Defense Fund representative commented on the last challenge, dismissed in December of 2011, saying: “There is no right not to be offended in America.”

In sprite of ADF’s efforts, we do have a right to a secular government, and I’m glad that the FFRF is fighting the good fight.

About Carrie

Carrie Clark is a lawyer in Illinois. The opinions herein are that of the author only. Any information in this post is for discussion purposes only, and is not offered as legal advice.

  • downtown dave

    Governor Brewer, you have my vote.  http://atheistlegitimacy.blogspot.com/

    • Rich Wilson

      Ya, good thing.  ’cause if it weren’t for Brewer, you’d have no Christians to vote for.  (Btw, you ever going to update that blog you keep spamming us with?  I mostly remember it’s you because my browser is nice enough to color it ‘visited’)

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dana-the-Primate/100003315353318 Dana-the Primate

      BTW, the arguments in your blog are as loose as a Mississippi prostitute…

  • Anonymous

    No Tebow post today?

    • Liz Heywood

      I’ve been waiting for the next Tebow round too. He’s over the top.

  • http://synackaon.myopenid.com/ Syn

    Hemant, you have a self-promoting bigot commenting here, with a link to a website that says the same thing in multiple languages.

    You might want to remove the stain. ;)

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

      Found it. Banned user.

    • Rich Wilson

      As trolls go, he’s at least not too loud.  He never comments more than once per post.  I’d stop feeding if he hung around more, but I don’t think he’s here for the food anyway.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dana-the-Primate/100003315353318 Dana-the Primate

    He’s on retreat…

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RVZEUTR7PX7HAMBZJXOSFP5UUE Colin

    Our governor always photographs so well… would you believe she’s actually a moderate compared to our state legislature?

  • Charles Black

    Call me crazy but is that photo of Brewer supposed to be trying to get good PR on her part?

  • http://profiles.google.com/nathanlee2 nathan lee

    The success or failure, it seems would all depend on the legal technicalities. Did she do it in a government building? Then it was public property applied to religious exercise and in support of a religious establishment. If not, then they would have to argue that the governor “molested inperson… on account of his or her mode of religious worship, or lack of the same.”

    The first case is very easy unless she did it on outside of a government building. In that case, it’s just the harder (but just as simple) proof that this “molested” the lack of a persons mode of worship.

    Luckily, this is a much more specific law than the national establishment clause, so it should be more simple to fight than national policies.

  • Josh

    I actually agree with the statement: “There is no right not to be offended in America.”

    Of course the context it was used in illustrates how clueless they are about why people sue over this stuff.

  • Timothy Alexander

    I’m glad I escaped Arizona.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6O7TY36KKR4RN2JRA7MLV6LEZY Stan Dalone

    “There is no right not to be offended in America.”

    Can we remind them of that next time they go ballistic about some atheist billboard on a bus?

  • EJC

    Little bit of an ad hominem here, but jesu, Jan Brewer looks like a baseball glove left out in the rain and then dried…

    • Carrie Clark

      Would you have said that about a male public figure?

      • EJC

        BaZOWWW Carrie,

        Way to pay attention!

        Sure, I mean, I think Rick Perry looks like an armadillo shit on his face….

    • Rich Wilson

      Only if you’re saying she’s wrong because of the way she looks.  As it is, well, Carrie covered it.

  • Anonymous

    good wctube


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