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Group Challenges Arizona Day of Prayer

PHOENIX (CN) - Gov. Jan Brewer's Arizona Day of Prayer is unconstitutional, the Freedom from Religion Foundation says.

An Arizona chapter of the Wisconsin-based nonprofit sued Brewer in Maricopa County Court, challenging the prayer days she proclaimed in each of the past 3 years.

The Valley of the Sun Chapter of the atheist group objects that Brewer "exhorted citizens to pray on Jan. 17, 2010, when she proclaimed a Day of Prayer for the Arizona economy and state budget."

Brewer's proclamation of an Arizona Day of Prayer in 2009, 2010 and 2011 "coincided with the Christian-based National Day of Prayer proclaimed by President Barack Obama, and as promoted by the National Day of Prayer Task Force, a private evangelical Christian organization," according to the complaint.

But the Freedom from Religion Foundation says exhortations "to pray in official gubernatorial proclamations ... promote and endorse religion, thus advancing religion in violation of the Arizona Constitution."

The group claims Brewer's actions were unconstitutional because she "used her government position, acting in her official capacity for which she was paid by public money, to appropriate and apply public money and property by endorsing religious worship, exercise or instruction, and supporting religious establishment."

Brewer's proclamations "turn believers in religion into political insiders, and make non-believers and many believers political outsiders by sending a message to non-believers that they are not welcome to fully participate in government processes," the complaint states.

The designation of an Arizona Day of Prayer "encourages celebration of prayer and creates a hostile environment for non-believers and many believers, who are made to feel as if they are second class citizens," according to the lawsuit.

The group and seven of its member-plaintiffs seek declaratory judgment that Brewer's previous proclamations violated the Arizona Constitution, and an injunction to stop Brewer from issuing a similar proclamation in 2012 for an Arizona Day of Prayer.

The Freedom from Religion Foundation describes itself in the complaint as "a national membership organization whose purposes are to promote the fundamental constitutional principle of separation of church and state and to educate on matters relating to nontheism."

They are represented by Richard Morris of Surprise and Marc Victor of Chandler.

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