Friday, April 15, 2011

"Hurt feelings differ from legal injury"

Joseph Knippenberg likes the 7th Circuit's decision that my local atheist group, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, doesn't have standing to challenge the President's proclamation of a National Day of Prayer.  From the decision:
Section 119 imposes duties on the President alone. It does not require any private person to do anything–or for that matter to take any action in response to whatever the President proclaims. If anyone suffers injury, therefore, that person is the President, who is not complaining. ....

Plaintiffs contend that they are injured because they feel excluded, or made unwelcome, when the President asks them to engage in a religious observance that is contrary to their principles. It is difficult to see how any reader of the 2010 proclamation would feel excluded or unwelcome. Here again is the proclamation’s only sentence that explicitly requests citizens to pray: “I call upon the citizens of our Nation to pray, or otherwise give thanks, in accordance with their own faiths or consciences, for our many freedoms and blessings, and I invite all people of faith to join me in asking for God’s continued guidance, grace, and protection as we meet the challenges before us." But let us suppose that plaintiffs nonetheless feel slighted. Still, hurt feelings differ from legal injury. The “value interests of concerned bystanders”…do not support standing to sue. ....
The first commenter at the post:
.... The objection and offense that so many atheists take at the sight or mention of anything related to God usually doesn’t come down to an issue of separation of church and state as much as an attempt to stifle free speech and free exercise of religion. They want freedom FROM religion, not freedom OF religion, but that’s not what our Constitution guarantees.

If they are not required to DO anything then it’s merely having to put up with another’s free speech.
Being invited to pray does not compel one to do so. Hearing a prayer, or anything else on any subject, does not compel assent. Religious speech was important enough to the Founders to get its own protection in the First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law...prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

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