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Court Restores Authority for Day of Prayer

CHICAGO (CN) - The National Day of Prayer is back on the books because the group that challenged it, the Freedom from Religion Foundation, lacked standing, the 7th Circuit ruled.

Thursday's decision reverses a controversial ruling from by a Madison, Wisc., federal judge who found the practice unconstitutional last year.

In 1952, Congress passed a joint resolution requiring the president to proclaim a national day of prayer each year. In 1988 the date was set for the first Thursday in May.

U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb ruled the proclamation unconstitutional last April, writing that it "goes beyond mere 'acknowledgement' of religion because its sole purpose is to encourage all citizens to engage in prayer, an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function in this context."

Despite the ruling, which sparked nationwide outrage, President Barack Obama delivered the proclamation last year.

On appeal, the 7th Circuit found that the act imposes duties only on the president, not private individuals. As such, the plaintiffs thus lacked standing to sue.

In delivering the proclamation, "The President has made a request; he has not issued a command," Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook wrote for the appellate court's three-judge panel. "No one is injured by a request that can be declined."

"The Judicial Branch does not censor a President's speech. ... Those who do not agree with a President's statement may speak in opposition to it; they are not entitled to silence the speech of which they disapprove."

Easterbrook also rejected the Freedom from Religion Foundation's claim that the proclamation had made them feel excluded or unwelcome.

"[H]urt feelings differ from legal injury," Easterbrook wrote.

Judge Ann Claire Williams wrote a concurring opinion, expressing concern that the ruling was based on overly vague interpretations of Supreme Court precedent.

"The Court simply has not been clear as to what distinguishes the psychological injury that suffices to give rise to an injury-in-fact in Establishment Clause case," Williams wrote.

The Freedom from Religion Foundation is requesting a rehearing by a full appellate panel.

In his 2010 proclamation, Obama urged Americans to "pray, or otherwise give thanks, in accordance with their own faiths and consciences, for our many freedoms and blessings."

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