A Wisconsin-based group of atheists and agnostics has filed suit against President Bush over the federal law designating a National Day of Prayer.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), which urges a strict separation of church and state, also names White House Press Secretary Dana Perino, Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle, and National Day of Prayer Task Force Chairwoman Shirley Dobson in the lawsuit filed Oct. 3.
"The point is to stop the National Day of Prayer," said Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the foundation, in an interview Oct. 6.
The law, created in 1952 by Congress and signed by President Harry Truman, establishes an annual prayer day. In 1988, President Reagan amended the law, permanently setting the day as the first Thursday of May.
"Designations of an official Day of Prayer by presidential and gubernatorial proclamations … create a hostile environment for nonbelievers," the complaint says.
FFRF maintains the law violates the First Amendment's prohibition against an official establishment of religion.
“We hope to buttress the wall of separation of church and state," Gaylor said.
Last year, the Supreme Court rejected a lawsuit by the same group that criticized Bush's faith-based initiative.
The recent suit charges that the National Day of Prayer Task Force has ties to James Dobson's Focus on the Family, a nonprofit evangelical organization. Shirley Dobson is James Dobson's wife. The task force also rents office space in the Focus on the Family headquarters.
"Presidents throughout our history have called for a national day of prayer," said the task force's vice chairman, Brian Toon. "This is an act of Congress."
"They can sue if they want to, but they're going to go against some pretty heavy people in our nation," Toon said.
The foundation, which is based in Madison, Wis., is also suing Doyle as one of 50 governors to issue a proclamation for the prayer day.
Blair Jones, a White House spokesman, said U.S. presidents since George Washington have invoked God's "continuing protection and favor … without offense to the Constitution."
"Two hundred-plus years of constitutional history teach that this lawsuit has absolutely no merit," Blair said, "and we expect the Justice Department will defend it vigorously."