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Colo. Day of Prayer Deemed an Unconstitutional 'Gov't Endorsement of Religion' by Judges


"We’re exulting over the fact that reason has prevailed, and constitutional rights have been affirmed."

Atheist activists are cheering after the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled on Thursday that proclamations made by the state's governors over the past few years in favor of a state Day of Prayer were unconstitutional.

From 2004 to 2009, the state's former governors, Bill Bitter and Bill Owens, made official pro-Colorado Day of Prayer statements that the three-judge panel ruled against. The case, which was brought by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a secular non-profit that frequently fights faith in the public square, will certainly make waves among the faithful.

The Denver Post provides a recap of the legal drama:

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.

The prayer day proclamations were particularly problematic, the judges said, because they included Bible verses and religious themes that were seen as state endorsements of religion. Thus, they ruled that the statements constituted a violation of Colorado's state constitution, as they purportedly favored the people who engage in prayer among all others.

"In doing so, they undermine the premise that the government serves believers and nonbelievers equally," wrote Judge Steven Bernard in a 73-page decision, The Post reports (read the ruling in its entirety here).

Overall, the judges found the Colorado Day of Prayer proclamations to be "predominately religious" and a "government endorsement of religion over non-religion."

"We’re exulting over the fact that reason has prevailed, and constitutional rights have been affirmed," gushed Annie Laurie Gaylor, the co-president of the FFRF.

The ruling didn't include National Day of Prayer statements that were made by the governors. The appeals judges have sent the case back to a trial court, where a decision surrounding whether Colorado governors should be banned from making future prayer statements will be made.

Eric Brown, a spokesman for Gov. John Hickenlooper, says that the state will consult with Attorney General John Suthers to weigh whether the decision should be appealed.

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