A federal appeals court has decided to throw out a ruling last year that declared the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional, clearing the way for President Barack Obama to acknowledge the day on May 5.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation initially filed the lawsuit in 2008. U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb then banned the prayer day in April 2010, saying it amounted to "a call to religious action."
But Thursday, a three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Foundation didn't have legal standing to sue, since the president's proclamation of the National Day of Prayer caused them no harm.
"All they have is a disagreement with the president's action. But unless all limits on standing are to be abandoned, a feeling of alienation cannot suffice as injury," Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook said in the opinion.
"Although this proclamation speaks to all citizens, no one is obligated to pray any more than a person would be obligated to hand over his money if the president asked all citizens to support the Red Cross and other charities," he added.
"The president has made a request. He has not issued a command," the judge continued. "No one is injured by a request that can be declined."
The American Center for Law and Justice represented nearly 70 members of Congress in defense of the National Day of Prayer.
"This decision represents a victory for our nation's heritage and history, protecting a long-standing tradition that's been a part of our country for centuries," ACLJ chief counsel Jay Sekulow said.
The Alliance Defense Fund also represented the non-profit National Day of Prayer Task Force in a friend-of-the-court brief.
"Public officials should be able to participate in public prayer activities just as America's founders did," ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot said.
"The 7th Circuit has clearly understood that the Freedom From Religion Foundation simply had no legal standing to attack the federal statute setting a day for the National Day of Prayer simply because the group is offended by religion," he said.
Members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation said in a statement that they'll seek a review by the full appeals court.
Congress established the National Day of Prayer in 1952 and in 1988 set the first Thursday in May as the day for presidents to issue proclamations asking Americans to pray.