Federal appeals court dismisses challenge to National Day of Prayer

[JURIST] A three-judge panel for the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit [official website] on Thursday dismissed [opinion, PDF] a constitutional challenge to the National Day of Prayer (NDP) [official website]. The decision overturns last year's decision [JURIST report] by the US District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin [official website] that the day of prayer more than acknowledged religion, but was an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment [text]. In a 3-0 decision, the panel concluded that the plaintiffs, members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) [advocacy website], do not have standing to challenge the day of prayer statute [text]. According to the court, because the day of prayer proclamation does not force private citizens "to do anything," the plaintiffs could not have been harmed and, therefore, have no standing to challenge. Chairman of the NDP Task Force, Shirley Dobson [official profile] applauded the decision [press release] and called it a victory:

Since the days of our Founding Fathers, the government has protected and encouraged public prayer and other expressions of dependence on the Almighty. Prayer is an indispensable part of our heritage, and as citizens, we must remain faithful in our commitment to intercede for our nation during this pivotal and challenging time.
This year's National Day of Prayer will take place on May 5. The FFRF has announced that it will petition for an en banc rehearing [press release] of the case.

Last year, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] ruled [JURIST report] that a teacher-led recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools does not violate the Constitution's Establishment Clause. The court also upheld the use of the phrase "In God We Trust" on currency. In November 2009, the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit [official website] ruled that a school district's policy prohibiting the performance of religious holiday songs does not violate [JURIST report] the establishment clause. Also that month, a judge for the US District Court for the District of South Carolina [official website] ruled that license plates [JURIST report] produced by the state bearing a picture of a cross in front of a stained glass window and the words "I Believe" violate the Constitution.

 

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