Hickenlooper Asks Supreme Court to Reverse Anti-Prayer Ruling

June 24, 2012
Hickenlooper #2
Hickenlooper has asked the Colorado Supreme Court to overturn a lower-court’s decision banning the Colorado Day of Prayer proclamationjkarsh / Foter

DENVER—Gov. John Hickenlooper has asked the Colorado Supreme Court to overturn a lower-court’s decision banning the Colorado Day of Prayer proclamation.

The petition, filed Thursday, argues that the Colorado Court of Appeals erred when it ruled May 10 that the proclamation amounts to an endorsement of religion, noting that the governor issues hundreds of ceremonial proclamations every year.

“By acknowledging various events, anniversaries, and civic accomplishments, the governor is by no means ‘endorsing’ or ‘favoring’ every one of the individuals recognized or the causes that the requesting groups support,” said Colorado Attorney General John Suthers in the 24-page filing. “Rather, honorary proclamations simply acknowledge the activities of individual and civic groups.”

The president and governors in 50 states have for years issued annual proclamations supporting the National Day of Prayer, which was established by Congress in 1952. The event is run by the National Day of Prayer Task Force in Colorado Springs.

The Freedom from Religion Foundation filed a lawsuit against the Colorado proclamation in 2008, arguing that the declarations violate the Constitution by granting favored status on religion over non-religion. The Wisconsin-based group has challenged the proclamations in every state, according to foundation president Dan Barker.

The Colorado Court of Appeals victory represents what may be the foundation’s biggest state victory to date in its battle against the proclamations. In 2010, a federal judge ruled the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional, saying that the “same law that prohibits the government from declaring a National Day of Prayer also prohibits it from declaring a National Day of Blasphemy,” but a three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals overturned her decision in April 2011.

The Seventh Circuit ruled that “no one is obliged to pray, any more than a person would be obliged to hand over his money if the President asked all citizens to support the Red Cross and other charities.”

In its decision, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled that a “reasonable observer would conclude that [the proclamations] send the message that those who pray are favored members of the Colorado’s political community, and that those who do not pray do not enjoy that favored status.”

Suthers challenged the ruling on constitutional grounds, arguing in Thursday’s petition that the court’s “conclusion to the contrary is inconsistent with both the federal Establishment Clause jurisprudence and the interpretation of the Preference Clause adopted by this Court.”

Suthers also took issue with the appeals court’s granting of “taxpayer standing” to the plaintiffs, who include the foundation and several Colorado residents. Taxpayer standing applies to “those who are able to demonstrate that their tax dollars have been spent in an unconstitutional manner,” he said.

No evidence was presented outlining the expenditure of any tax dollars for the proclamation, and even if there had been, the expenses would have been so minor as to fall under the de minimus standard, which disregards trifling expenditures, said Suthers.

“To hold otherwise, as the court of appeals did in this case, would be to throw open the doors of Colorado’s state courts to anyone who disagreed with any governmental action,” he said. “No matter how little time or energy a state employee or official’s action takes, some miniscule portion of his salary is earned during that period.”

The Colorado Supreme Court is expected to decide within the next few months whether to hear the case. If the court declines to take it, then the court of appeals ruling stands, barring another appeal.

The foundation also has a lawsuit against the National Day of Prayer proclamation pending in Arizona.

The National Day of Prayer tradition traces its roots to 1775, when the Continental Congress set aside a day for prayer. In 1905, Colorado Gov. Jesse McDonald exhorted Coloradans to “turn to the Lord in prayer,” according to the National Day of Prayer Task Force.

Comments made by visitors are not representative of The Colorado Observer staff.

9 Responses to Hickenlooper Asks Supreme Court to Reverse Anti-Prayer Ruling

  1. Paul
    June 26, 2012 at 8:11 am

    One of the very basics tenets of the establishment of this great country was ‘Freedom of Religion’. Now, it seems that there are those who would eliminate this freedom. It appears that their beliefs are in conflict with those who fought so hard, even to the point of sacrificing their lives, to establish this important freedom. For those who do not wish to exercise this freedom, they have the freedom of not participating. They have no right to take away our freedoms unless they do so legally thru the legislative process. And if that happens, this democracy is doomed to non-existance.

    • Jan McKay
      July 2, 2012 at 10:25 am

      In light of the recent fires in Colorado, are you willing for the people to cry out to God, or will the courts still hold on to their atheistic stand against the Day of Prayer? Would Colorado be offended that people stand in the gap in this dire situation?
      Will you Colorado remain stiff-necked against the only one who can help in this crisis? America it is time to Bless God!

  2. Fabbo
    June 26, 2012 at 11:11 am

    So, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled that a “reasonable observer would conclude that [the proclamations] send the message that those who pray are favored members of the Colorado’s political community, and that those who do not pray do not enjoy that favored status.” I’ve always considered myself a very reasonable human being and this is not how I see it at all. You wanna pray in public? Pray. If you don’t, don’t. These people want THEIR freedom, but at the cost of mine.

    • Jeremy
      June 28, 2012 at 3:18 pm

      “”The governor’s office issued the six proclamations in response to requests that specifically state that the National Day of Prayer Task Force intends to use them for the purpose of promoting religion, worship and prayer,” [Justice] Bernard wrote in the report.”

      Promoting religion is not the same as allowing it (just as not promoting is not the same as preventing). Nobody is trying to stop Coloradans from praying in public and, as a reasonable human being, you know that’s the case. All this is doing is keeping the government from legally institutionalizing a specific Judeo-Christian religious practice. Religion needs to be left to the people, not the state. Pray in public all you want, but don’t ask the state to spend money and resources on your personal relationship with your deity.

      Why would you want that? Would you endorse the state government spending time and resources and enacting legislation on some of my favorite hobbies and personal beliefs? Perhaps I feel that our Creator, as named in the Constitution (and in this proclamation), wants me to promote polygamy, cock fighting, and virgin sacrifices every other Tuesday. Care to support that on bended knee with me? No? Well, just me and Hickenlooper, then. Because, surely, he doesn’t officially support your god more than mine. That would be clearly unconstitutional.


  3. K Hayashi MD
    June 28, 2012 at 3:06 pm

    As a prior Sunday School teacher, and a veteran who swore to uphold and defend our sacred Constitution, I’d consider that when any US public official urges prayer it is clearly a promotion of religion. We are a great nation because we have less, not more entanglement of church and state.
    The well-meaning governor and some others may be against the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s view. However, throughout history, many in power have held forth against unpopular positions (e.g. the rights of blacks and women to vote) and those positions were later acknowledged by the courts, and society, to be just.
    Matthew 6:6 speaks plainly, directing us to pray in private, not in the public square. Of course religiosity (i.e. the world’s Pat Robertsons and Dobsons) may not fare so well following the Bible’s guidance on prayer, but genuine spirituality can do just fine.

  4. ed-words
    June 28, 2012 at 6:22 pm

    (All that praying didn’t prevent the wildfires.)

    Keep religious activities out of government.

    • Babs
      June 28, 2012 at 7:13 pm

      That’s right – nothing fails like prayer!

    • skeptic4321
      June 28, 2012 at 8:13 pm

      “Two hands working can do far more good than a thousand clasped in prayer.”


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