First Amendment

Atheist Group in the News with Win in National Prayer Case

An atheist and agnostic group that litigates church-state issues is getting some press as a result of its recent victory in a challenge to the National Day of Prayer.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has already chalked up some wins, the New York Times reports. It successfully sued a Tennessee school district for teaching the Bible and a Colorado public school for requiring students to volunteer in churches. It also won a ruling overturning a law in Madison, Wis., that required businesses to close on Good Friday.

The group is headquartered in a former Episcopal rectory in Madison, Wis. Its co-presidents are a former evangelical minister, Dan Barker, and his wife, Annie Laurie Gaylor. Barker told the Times he gave up the ministry when he realized he didn’t believe the Bible. “I just had to fess up and say, ‘This is nonsense,’ ” he said.

In the group’s latest win, a federal judge struck down a 1952 law requiring the president to sign an annual proclamation observing a National Day of Prayer. U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb of Wisconsin ruled that the law violates the required separation between church and state, but stayed the ruling for 60 days to allow the Obama administration to appeal.

“Recognizing the importance of prayer to many people does not mean the government may enact a statute in support of it, any more than the government may encourage citizens to fast during the month of Ramadan, attend a synagogue, purify themselves in a sweat lodge, or practice rune magic,” Crabb wrote in the April 15 opinion.

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