ACRU

Court Dismisses Militant Atheists’ Federal Suit Against Texas Gov. Rick Perry

This column by ACRU Senior Legal Analyst Ken Klukowski was published July 28, 2011 on The Washington Examiner website.

U.S. District Judge Gray Miller in Texas today dismissed a lawsuit against Texas Gov. Rick Perry for organizing a day of prayer at Reliant Stadium on Aug. 6, holding that the plaintiffs lacked standing to bring a suit.

Perry’s event, entitled “The Response,” was a public call for people to participate in prayer to ask for God’s help in confronting the nation’s current difficulties. It was supported by the American Family Association (AFA).

A militant atheist group, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), filed a federal lawsuit to prevent Perry from being involved in the event. The FFRF was especially upset that Perry mentioned the name “Jesus Christ” in connection with the event.

Such calls for prayer have been common in American culture until the past couple of decades. Every president except one has called for national days of prayer, often in response to various national crises. Congress established a National Day of Prayer to be held once a year, and President Reagan signed a law designating it as the first Thursday in May.

The FFRF has also sued over the National Day of Prayer. Although a liberal judge initially sided with FFRF, the 7th Circuit federal appeals court dismissed the case for lack of standing.

Liberty Institute’s Kelly Shackelford, representing AFA as it prepared to intervene in the case to support Perry, said, “This is a complete and total victory for freedom and the First Amendment. This was an attack on the rights of every American, and it failed miserably.”

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, who’s done national media with Perry regarding this event, said, “This is not just a victory for the defenders of the First Amendment. It is a victory for all Americans who appreciate the freedoms and benefits that flow from our freedom of religion.”

The court was right to dismiss this lawsuit. The Constitution’s Establishment Clause only forbids government action that coerces citizens or directly establishes a particular official faith with taxpayer support. Beyond that, Article III requires that a plaintiff must suffer a personal injury to sue someone in federal court.

It’s difficult to see how a prayer offered by a state governor would inflict personal injury on anybody.