Monday, December 29, 2008

Atheists Seek Overturn of Day of Prayer Law

Bill Ritter Jr. was not the first governor of Colorado to declare the first Thursday in May as a day of prayer.

But he was the first to attend a celebration of the National Day of Prayer at the state Capitol, joining a crowd of several hundred Christians in 2007. His appearance at the event caught the attention of a Wisconsin-based atheist group, which has mounted a campaign its leaders hope will dissuade him and other governors from participating again.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has filed a lawsuit in state court, seeking to stop the governor from issuing any proclamations it says endorse a particular religion and send a message to nonreligious residents "that they are expected to believe in God."

"Everybody has become too comfortable with this interaction of religion and government. Sometimes someone needs to push back," said David Habecker, 63, one of the lawsuit's plaintiffs and a member of the foundation.

Habecker was ousted as town trustee in Estes Park, Colo., in a 2005 recall after he refused to recite the Pledge of Allegiance because he objected to the phase "under God."

The suit is part of a broader campaign by the group to overturn the 1952 law designating a National Day of Prayer and mandating an annual proclamation by the president.

The group also recently filed a federal lawsuit arguing that proclamations encouraging prayer violate a constitutional ban on government officials endorsing religion.

Of particular interest to the foundation, its leaders said, is the role of the National Day of Prayer Task Force, a private organization in Colorado Springs that advocates for participation in the annual observance.

The task force -- whose chairwoman, Shirley Dobson, is married to James Dobson, founder of the evangelical Christian group Focus on the Family -- comes up with biblical themes and quotes for each day of prayer and lobbies vigorously for governors across the nation to use them, said Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of Freedom From Religion.

This year, Ritter, a Democrat, used the quotes suggested by the task force.

"They're working hand in glove with government officials dictating prayer to constituents. That's not what government is supposed to do," Gaylor said.

Read it all here.

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