Hickenlooper OK’s Appeal of Anti-Prayer Ruling

June 4, 2012
Joe Gratz / Foter

DENVER – Gov. John Hickenlooper has agreed to appeal the court decision banning the Colorado Day of Prayer proclamation to the Colorado Supreme Court, according to the attorney general’s office.

Fred Yarger, spokesman for Attorney General John Suthers, confirmed Friday that the governor had authorized the appeal. Mr. Suthers’ office is expected to file a Notice of Appeal this month with the high court.

“We met with the governor’s office to explain what the legal basis would be for the appeal, and why we think it would be successful,” said Yarger.

A three-judge panel of the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled unanimously that the annual proclamation issued by the governor’s office violates the state constitution, arguing that the declarations “have the primary or principal effect of endorsing religious beliefs,” said the court in its May 10 opinion.

The National Day of Prayer Task Force, based in Colorado Springs, reacted by launching an online petition drive asking for supporters to contact the governor and attorney general to urge them to challenge the ruling.

Advocates of the Colorado Day of Prayer proclamation cheered the governor’s decision to file the appeal. The governor’s office did not return phone calls asking for comment.

“If indeed the governor and the attorney general have made the decision to appeal, then we applaud their action, given that the majority of their constituency are people of prayer.” John Bornschein, Vice Chairman, National Day of Prayer Task Force.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a lawsuit against the Colorado Day of Prayer in 2008. Denver District Court Judge R. Michael Mullins initially dismissed the case in 2010, stating that “there is nothing controversial about a restatement of a right protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.”

The judge noted that the proclamation does not have the force of law, and that even if it did, “the language does not support the foundation for a state religion, but only an acknowledgement of the rights of the citizenry as recognized as far back as the Declaration of Independence.

His decision was overturned by the Colorado Court of Appeals, which sent the case back to the lower court to consider whether to issue a permanent injunction against the annual proclamations.

“A reasonable observer would conclude that these proclamations send the message that those who pray are favored members of Colorado’s political community, and that those who do not pray do not enjoy that favored status,” said Judge Steven Bernard in the 73-page decision.

The National Day of Prayer is held the first Thursday of every month with the goal of mobilizing prayer in America and encouraging “personal repentance and righteousness in the culture.”

President Truman signed a bill in 1952 setting aside the National Day of Prayer. Governors in all 50 states traditionally mark the event with proclamations encouraging participation in their states.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has challenged the proclamations in other states, but the Colorado Court of Appeals decision represents its most significant victory. The organization also has a lawsuit against the declarations pending in Arizona.

John Andrews, director of the Centennial Institute at Colorado Christian University, praised the move to appeal the case.

“I’m thrilled they’ve decided to do the appeal,” said Andrews. “The decision itself was outrageous.”

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