Published July 28, 2011
HOUSTON – A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit that sought to stop Gov. Rick Perry from sponsoring a national day of Christian prayer and fasting, ruling Thursday that the group of atheists and agnostics did not have legal standin g to sue.
U.S. District Judge Gray H. Miller said the Freedom From Religion Foundation argued against Perry's involvement based merely on feelings of exclusion, but did not show sufficient harm to merit the injunction they sought.
"The governor has done nothing more than invite others who are willing to do so to pray," Miller said.
Rich Bolton, who argued for the group, said he was considering an appeal.
"I wonder if we had a Muslim governor what would happen if the whole state was called to a Muslim prayer," said Kay Staley, one of five Texas residents named as plaintiffs in the suit. "I think the governor needs to keep his religion out of his official duties."
Staley said she would be at the prayer rally to protest.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation argued in the lawsuit that Perry's involvement in the day of prayer and fasting would violate the First Amendment's establishment clause. The event, which is called The Response, is scheduled for Aug. 6 at Houston's Reliant Stadium.
A day earlier, Perry defended the event, comparing it to President Barack Obama's participation in the National Day of Prayer.
"My prayer is that the courts will find that the first amendment is still applicable to the governor no matter what they might be doing and that what we've done in the state of Texas or what we've done in the governor's office is appropriate," he said. "It's no different than what George Washington or Abraham Linlcoln or President Truman or President Obama have done."
Perry, an evangelical Christian, said he didn't yet know what his role in the rally would be.
"I'm going to be there — I may be ushering for all I know — I haven't gotten my marching orders," he said. "It's not about me and it's not about the people on the stage either, this is truly about coming together as a state lifting up this nation in prayer, having a day of prayer and fasting. That's all it is."
The group, which unsuccessfully sued to stop Obama's National Day of Prayer earlier this year, filed the case on behalf of 700 members in Texas and called on the court to stop Perry from participating in the meeting or using his office to promote or recognize it.
Perry invited the Obama administration, the nation's governors and Texas lawmakers to attend the event. The Republican governor is moving closer to jumping in the race for the White House.
The event is being sponsored by several evangelical Christian groups, including the American Family Association, which has been criticized by civil rights groups for promoting anti-homosexual and anti-Islamic positions on the roughly 200 radio stations it operates.
The foundation said it does not oppose politicians taking part in religious services, but that Perry crossed a line by initiating the event, using his position as governor to endorse and promote it and by using his official website to link to the organizer's website. The plaintiffs also contend that Perry's use of Texas' official state seal to endorse the event and his plans to issue an official proclamation violate the Constitution.
An appellate court in April dismissed the group's previous lawsuit against the Obama administration over the National Day of Prayer, on which people of all faiths were invited to take part. Like Miller, the three-judge panel in that case ruled that the group could not prove that they had suffered any harm when the president issued a proclamation observing the day.