Federal judge dismisses challenge to mayor’s ‘Bible Week’ proclamation

Thursday, October 7, 1999

An Arizona mayor is free to declare a week in November a time to read and
ponder the Bible, after a federal judge dismissed a challenge to the mayoral

Last year the Arizona American Civil Liberties Union sued both Gov. Jane Hull
and Gilbert Mayor Cynthia Dunham, who were prepared to issue “Bible Week”
proclamations. The ACLU, representing state and city taxpayers, claimed in
federal court that such proclamations would violate the separation of church and

In late November, U.S. District Judge Roslyn Silver issued a temporary
injunction barring the governor and mayor from issuing the proclamation, which
says “the Bible is the foundational document of the Judeo-Christian principles
upon which our nation was conceived” and that it should be read by all citizens.
Silver said the proclamation ran afoul of the establishment clause of the First

After the ruling, Hull dropped plans to issue the proclamation and the ACLU
dropped its lawsuit against her. Dunham, however, continued to denounce the
ACLU's actions and said she would eventually issue the Bible week statement.
Late last week, Silver dismissed the ACLU's suit against Dunham, saying the
civil rights group lacked the standing to continue its legal fight.

“It is undisputed that the mental anguish and profound offense that the
[ACLU] experienced as a result of the 1997 Bible Week Proclamation and the
proposed 1998 Proclamation is genuine,” Silver wrote. “Nonetheless, the Supreme
Court has concluded that no matter how significant, the psychological suffering
resulting from knowledge of purportedly unconstitutional conduct does not
constitute judicially-cognizable injury for purposes of standing.”

Silver, however, noted that the plaintiffs' “lack of standing will not
preclude a finding of standing in future actions challenging the Bible Week
Proclamations by the Mayor and Town of Gilbert.”

In a prepared statement, Dunham said she was “ecstatic” over the judge's
decision and intent on issuing the proclamation this year. The National Bible
Association, a New York-based group that urges government officials nationwide
to proclaim the week of Nov. 23 Bible week, created the proclamation.

Walter Weber, a senior attorney for the American Center for Law and Justice,
a socially conservative law firm that helped defend the mayor, said that the ACLU's lawsuit was an attempt to build
a higher constitutional wall separating church and state.

“The proclamation merely shows a tradition of commemorating matters of
importance to the life of the community,” Weber said. “The proclamation is no
different than previous proclamations commemorating Thanksgiving and the
National Day of Prayer. These are simply time-honored traditions that are
constitutionally protected.”

The Arizona ACLU did not return calls
regarding Dunham's intent to issue a Bible week