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National Day of Prayer upheld

A Madison-based organization opposed to religion lacks standing to challenge the National Day of Prayer.

The 7th Circuit on Thursday reversed a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Crabb, which held that the 1988 statute, codifying the first Thursday in May as the National Day of Prayer, was unconstitutional.

Judge Frank Easterbrook wrote for the court that, since the statute imposes duties solely on the president, only he has standing to challenge the statute, and he “is not complaining.”

“No one has standing to object to a statute that imposes duties on strangers,” Easterbrook said.

The suit was brought against President Barack Obama by the Freedom from Religion Foundation Inc., an organization that objects to what they view as the government’s endorsement and encouragement of religion.

In March of last year, Crabb held that they had standing to bring the suit. The organization alleged injury in “the feeling of unwelcomeness and exclusion they experience as nonreligious persons because of what they view as a message from the government that it favors Americans who pray.”

Crabb found that injury intangible, but sufficiently concrete to confer standing to challenge the statute. Freedom from Religion Foundation, Inc., v. Obama, 691 F.Supp.2d 890 (W.D.Wis.2010).

The next month, Crabb granted summary judgment in favor of the organization, holding that the statute violated the Establishment Clause.

Crabb held the statute “goes beyond mere ‘acknowledgment’ of religion because its sole purpose is to encourage all citizens to engage in prayer, an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function.” Freedom from Religion Foundation, Inc., v. Obama, 705 F.Supp.2d 1039 (W.D.Wis.2010).

But the 7th Circuit reversed on appeal, holding that “hurt feelings differ from legal injury.”

The court explained, “Plaintiffs have not altered their conduct one whit or incurred any cost in time or money. All they have is disagreement with the President’s action. But unless all limits on standing are to be abandoned, a feeling of alienation cannot suffice as injury in fact.”

The case is Freedom from Religion Foundation, Inc., v. Obama, No. 10-973.

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