A federal judge has thrown out efforts to block Gov. Jan Brewer from declaring an official "day of prayer."
In an order filed Monday, Judge Roslyn Silver sidestepped the argument by the Freedom From Religion Foundation that such proclamations violate the First Amendment which precludes Congress from approving any law "respecting an establishment of religion." Attorneys for the group said Brewer, who has issued similar proclamations in the past, is effectively advocating religion.
Instead, Silver said all of that is legally irrelevant. She said the atheist group - and others contesting the action - lack standing to challenge what the governor has done and will do in the future.
"Gov. Brewer's proclamations proclaim a day of prayer, and one proclamation encourages all citizens to pray for God's blessings on our state and nation," the judge acknowledged.
"Though ‘encouraged,' no one, including plaintiffs, is obligated to pray," Silver wrote. "Nor are plaintiffs forced to alter their physical routine or bear a monetary expense to avoid a religious symbol."
At best, the judge said, those challenging the governor's actions have incurred a "stigmatic injury" or "feeling like an outsider." None of that, said Silver, gives them the right to sue.
Attorney Marc Victor said his clients are weighing whether to seek review from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals or file a new lawsuit in state court. He said there are similar requirements to separate church and state in the Arizona Constitution.
In a prepared statement Brewer praised the court, calling the lawsuit "a futile attempt to stifle an American right and tradition."
"Citizens of every race, background and creed have been coming together in voluntary prayer since our nation's founding, and will continue to do so against this organization's best efforts," the governor said.
Press aide Matthew Benson acknowledged that not everyone believes in prayer. But he said that does not mean his boss is doing anything unconstitutional.
"The key thing to remember is these days of prayer are voluntary," he said.
"These are opportunities for individuals from every race, background and creed to come together in prayer - or not pray," Benson continued. "It is up to everybody whether they want to participate or not."
Victor acknowledged that this is not the first time courts have tossed challenges to prayer declarations on the question of standing to sue. A federal appeals court last year issued a similar ruling on the same group's challenge to President Obama's national declaration.
But he said a valid question remains about whether government officials should be using their position to make such a call. Victor also said that while the Freedom From Religion Foundation is made up of atheists, some of the plaintiffs in this case included members of various religious groups who believe it is not the proper role of government to urge people to pray.