Published April 23, 2011
Gov. Rick Perry, a devout Christian, is calling on all Texans to pray for rain as most of the state battles an extreme and exceptional drought.
Perry has proclaimed a three-day period, from Friday to Sunday, as Days of Prayer for Rain in the state.
"I urge Texans of all faiths and traditions to offer prayers on that day for the healing of our land, the rebuilding of our communities and the restoration of our normal way of life," he wrote in the proclamation.
The drought has led to massive wildfires that have scored more than 1.8 million acres since last year, claimed the lives of two firefighters and destroyed nearly 400 homes. Perry declared a state of emergency in December.
This isn't the first time Perry has asked Texans for prayer in the midst of a disaster. Last year, he joined three other Gulf Coast state governors – Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and Alabama Gov. Bob Riley -- who held a day of prayer more than two months after the BP oil spill.
While there hasn't been any public criticism of Perry's religious response so far, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer is being targeted for her Day of Prayer proclamations.
The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, which has made elimination of the Day of Prayer a central cause of its existence, filed a lawsuit last month to prevent Brewer from declaring May 5 this year's "Day of Prayer" in Arizona.
Filing the suit on behalf of four Arizonans identified as nonbelievers in religion, the foundation has also questioned the constitutionality of Brewer's proclamation in 2009 and 2010 as well as her Day of Prayer proclamation for the state budget on Jan. 17, 2010.
On Thursday, the governor told a court in Phoenix that she is in compliance with federal and state constitutional provisions. She also addressed the lawsuit during a prayer breakfast in which she said proclaiming a day of prayer is an American tradition dating back to George Washington's presidency.
"The lawsuit to stop our prayer proclamations is nothing more than an attempt to drive religious expression from the public square," she said. "I intend to fight that lawsuit -- vigorously -- every step of the way."
The group tried a similar tack against President Obama to prevent a National Day of Prayer, but a three-judge panel on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals tossed the case last week, ruling that the Freedom From Religion Foundation lacked standing. Brewer said she's confident of a similar outcome in the Arizona case.
Presidents have been annually marking days of prayer since 1952, when President Harry Truman signed a congressional resolution into law. Congress amended the law in 1988 to make the first Thursday in May the National Day of Prayer.
The Wisconsin group is seeking a rehearing of the case against Obama from the entire 7th Circuit Court.
"Our challenge is so strong, our claim is so correct," Foundation Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said in a statement. "The First Amendment says, 'Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.' No law should mean no law!"
Last fall, the group lost a legal challenge in Colorado that alleged the state violated its constitution by recognizing the National Day of Prayer. But a district court judge in Denver dismissed the case, saying the state proclamation is a lawful expression of an individual's right to practice religion.