FFRF Loses Challenge to Stop Arizona Day of Prayer… Again

In January of 2012, the Freedom From Religion Foundation sued Arizona Governor Jan Brewer in order to stop her from holding another Day of Prayer (PDF).

The FFRF, along with several members from the state, sued on principle — saying that the Day of Prayer was unconstitutional — instead of arguing that it “harmed” any of the plaintiffs… but that may have been their undoing. Last August, a court in Arizona threw out their lawsuit saying the plaintiffs didn’t have “standing” to sue to government:

The Court having considered all information presented and authorities cited, finds that Plaintiffs lack an injury sufficient to demonstrate that they have direct or representational standing. In the absence of a particularized and concrete injury suffered by Plaintiffs, their claims cannot go forward. Plaintiffs have not alleged that they filed their claims in their capacity as taxpayers, nor have they shown a direct injury, pecuniary or otherwise. No exceptional circumstances or fundamental questions of statutory construction or constitutionality of a statute or government action, moot due to passage of time, have been demonstrated to support the Court’s waiver of the standing requirement.

As you might have guessed, Brewer was thrilled (PDF):

“I applaud the Arizona Superior Court for rejecting this lawsuit, which was little more than another sad attempt to stifle an American tradition.

“Uniting in prayer is a custom as old as our nation itself. For centuries, millions of Americans of every race, creed and color have come together in voluntary prayer to seek strength and wisdom. This is an American right and tradition, and one that I’ve proudly marked each year I’ve been Governor by proclaiming an Arizona Day of Prayer.

“In these troubled times, it is more important than ever that we have opportunities such as this to freely and voluntarily come together in seeking courage and guidance from a higher power. I thank the court for dismissing this baseless suit, and will continue to vigorously defend our ability to commemorate an Arizona Day of Prayer.”

FFRF filed an appeal after that, asking the Arizona Court of Appeals to overturn the ruling. Yesterday, unfortunately, the court decided they didn’t want to hear the case (PDF), effectively putting and end to the issue for now:

Arizona, however, has placed limits on a party’s standing to sue another. To have standing to sue, a plaintiff must have suffered injury in fact, economic or otherwise, from the allegedly illegal conduct, and the injury must be distinct and palpable so that the plaintiff has a personal stake in the outcome.

Appellants allege only that the proclamations offend them and cause them to feel like outsiders and second-class citizens. While we acknowledge those feelings, in this context we do not consider them to be so critical “as to convince us to consider this challenge to executive conduct.”

Once again, Brewer was gloating (PDF):

Governor Jan Brewer today thanked the Arizona Court of Appeals for rejecting a legal challenge to the longstanding tradition of gubernatorial proclamations designating an Arizona Day of Prayer. With its decision today, the Arizona Court of Appeals found that the plaintiffs — including an out-of-state, special
interest group known as the Freedom from Religion Foundation
— could not demonstrate any injury caused by the proclamations and, therefore, lacked standing to sue.

The FFRF accepts the ruling but wonders how this decision would have gone if the governor had proclaimed it a Day of No Prayer instead:

“Can you imagine how the court would have ruled had Brewer issued a proclamation stating that prayer was futile and encouraged all citizens to take a day to refrain from prayer?” asks FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Slamming shut the courthouse door to prevent citizens from challenging government violations is the legal trend today, and it’s a trend everyone should decry. The Religious Right should take heed: The same rulings that bar atheists and nonbelievers from courthouse challenges will apply equally to aggrieved believers.”

“Courts have most often held that standing is available when there is direct and unwelcome contact with speech promoting or denigrating religion. With the court’s view on standing, Arizona citizens are unable to challenge religious endorsements at the highest levels of state government,” [FFRF attorney Patrick] Elliott said.

That’s really the big problem here. There’s no good way to challenge government overreach when it comes to church/state separation, paving the way for Religious Right abuses. They want to turn the government Christian, it’s easier to do at the state level than at a national level, and the Arizona courts just handed right-wing groups a tremendous gift.

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.