Suit Seeks to Ban God from Inaugural Prayer
Special Report - January 6, 2009
Infamous atheist Michael Newdow recently filed a lawsuit in federal district court that is aimed at banning prayer and references to God from the presidential inauguration ceremony for Barack Obama, which is scheduled to take place on January 20, 2009. Newdowan attorney from California who is mostly known for his ongoing efforts to get “under God” removed from the Pledge of Allegiancefiled the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on December 30, along with nearly 30 other co-plaintiffs, including Dan Barker, president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The lawsuit specifically seeks to have the court enjoin U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, Jr. from using the phrase “So help me God” when he administers the Presidential Oath of Office, and to enjoin the Presidential Inauguration Committee from allowing clergy to offer prayer at this year’s ceremony and in the future. In addition to naming Chief Justice Roberts as a defendant in the lawsuit, the 34-page legal complaint also names Reverend Rick Warren of Saddleback Church, who is scheduled to give the invocation during the ceremony, and Reverend Joe Lowery, the co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, who is scheduled to give the benediction. The legal complaint contends that allowing clergy to offer prayers at the presidential inauguration and use of the phrase “So help me God” during the administration of the oath of office violate the Establishment and the Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment, as well as certain sections of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).
In the complaint, Newdow writes that “acknowledgements of God” during public ceremonies: “ridicule public occasions, making a mockery of the wonders of nature and of human achievement,” and “remind Plaintiffs of the myriad wars fought by those convinced that their religious ‘truths’ justified intolerance, and of September 11, 2001, when a fanatic and his religious followers turned four of our airplanes into bombs, murdering 3,000 of our citizens ... all in the name of God.”
Newdow argues that placing “So help me God” in the presidential oath and allowing clergy members to offer prayers to God amounts to “engaging in and promoting governmental activities that (a) will exacerbate Plaintiffs’ ‘outsider’ status, (b) will have religious purposes, (c) will have religious effects, (d) will endorse the purely religious notion that there exists a God, (e) will show a preference for that exclusionary religious belief, (f) will affiliate government with that religious belief, (g) will signal the disapproval of Plaintiffs’ religious views, (h) will violate the governmental neutrality required in matters of religion, (i) will inculcate the specific religious belief that God exists (and likely the specific religious belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God), and (j) will place government’s ‘imprimatur’ on those specific religious beliefs.”
Newdow made similar arguments in two other federal lawsuits against inaugural prayer filed in 2001 and 2005. Both times, the courts rejected his claims. Scott Walter, president of the Beckett Fund for Religious Libertya public interest law firm that opposes Newdow in his Pledge of Allegiance lawsuitcalled Newdow’s most recent lawsuit a “publicity stunt.”
“Newdow’s lawsuit over the inauguration is a lot like the streaker at the Superbowl: a pale, self-absorbed distraction. And anybody who looks at it carefully can see there’s not much there,” said Walter. “He’s tried this twice before, and the courts have rebuffed him both times. The main thing he’s changed this year is to add the Chief Justice. That won’t make any legal difference. This is more a publicity stunt than a serious lawsuit.”
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