The Freedom From Religion Foundation’s ongoing legal battle, which challenges the US government’s recognition of an official “National Day Of Prayer”, has had a positive ruling overturned and the case thrown out by a Court of Appeals.
They still have recourse, and are already moving on with plans to have the case reheard. The law they’re challenging has been in place since 1952, and designates the first Thursday in May as a time for Americans “to turn to God in prayer and meditation”.
You might remember that the US also has this thing called the Constitution, and that one of the first things they decided to add to it when they realised it wasn’t quite finished was the idea that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”.
So you can see why this law which respects an establishment of religion might rub a few people up the wrong way.
The technicality on which the challenge has been thrown out this time is that the Foundation apparently lack “standing”. This means that it’s not their place to challenge the law, because they’re not personally being harmed by it or directly losing out in any way.
You can see why there ought to be some limitations along these lines on what lawsuits you can bring. Otherwise, you can imagine all sorts of frivolous and time-wasting cases being brought to court, by people who really have no stake in what they’re complaining about except their own personal indignation. But should the FFRF really stay out of this because it doesn’t affect them negatively in any way, as the court effectively ruled?
Daylight Atheism said it best:
In this case, the Seventh Circuit found that the FFRF had suffered no injury from the National Day of Prayer. Apparently, this is true even if public money is used to sponsor and organize the day’s events, even if participation is restricted to certain religious sects that work hand-in-glove with elected officials, even if NDP events specifically endorse one version of religious scripture over others, even if said events include official statements questioning the patriotism, morality or citizenship of those who refuse to participate. Never mind all that – when the President tells you to pray, you can say no, and that’s all it takes for your civil rights not to be violated!
According the Foundation’s report, Judge Barbara Crabb, who’d initially ruled in favour of their challenge last year, pointed out that enacting a National Day of Prayer, sponsored by public money and using elected representatives’ time and authority to instruct people to get praying, is “no more within the purview of government” than it would be if they passed a law and instituted another National Day which encouraged everyone to “fast during the month of Ramadan, attend a synagogue, purify themselves in a sweat lodge or practice rune magic”.
And you can just imagine how badly, if they did that, the Christian right would lose their shit.
There’s no un-tortured legal reasoning I can see behind this decision. The decision-makers are just doing what they want, because they’re Christians, and they pray, and they think praying and being a Christian is all just fine, and anyone who doesn’t want to join in isn’t really suffering and should just buck up already. You don’t have to pray if you don’t want to. And if you’ve got some other gods of your own, you can do your chin-wagging with them instead. Everyone’s happy, right?
Well, clearly not. This law seems to be straight-forwardly unconstitutional and unconscionable. Government’s place in matters of people’s religion should be to stay the hell out of it.