The Colorado Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that governors’ proclamations of a state Day of Prayer violate the Constitution’s provisions for religious liberty.
When the state sponsors the particular religious practice of prayer, the three-judge panel found, it sends a message that those who pray are favored members of Colorado’s political community.
“In doing so, they undermine the premise that the government serves believers and nonbelievers equally,” Judge Steven Bernard wrote in a 73-page decision.
The content of six Colorado Day of Prayer proclamations, 2004 to 2009, is “predominantly religious,” lacking a secular context or purpose, and the effect is “government endorsement of religion over nonreligion,” Bernard wrote. Judges Alan Loeb and Nancy Lichtenstein concurred.
The governors’ proclamations, made by Govs. Bill Ritter and Bill Owens, have included biblical verses and other religious themes. They are calls to actual worship, Bernard wrote.
The appeals court sent the case back to the trial court to consider whether a permanent injunction should be entered against the state prayer event held the first Thursdays in May.
“We will consult with Attorney General John Suthers as we consider whether to appeal this decision to the Colorado Supreme Court,” said Eric Brown, spokesman for Gov. John Hickenlooper.
The legal challenge to the Colorado Day of Prayer was made in 2008 against Gov. Bill Ritter by the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation. The foundation also won a federal case in 2010, FFRF v. Obama, in which a U.S. district court ruled the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional. In 2011, however, the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals found the foundation had lacked standing to make the case. Yet the Colorado appellate court affirmed FFRF’s standing.
Day of Prayer events across the country are organized with the help of the Colorado Springs-based National Day of Prayer Task Force, an evangelical Christian group led since 1991 by Shirley Dobson, wife of Focus on the Family founder James Dobson.
“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,” Bernard wrote.
Electa Draper: 303-954-1276 or firstname.lastname@example.org