« What Bible Passage should Obama Choose? | Main | Jim Wallis, Kirbyjon Caldwell to Pray at Inaugural Service »

January 15, 2009

Judge Rejects Atheist Challenge to Inaugural Prayer

A U.S. District judge today denied a California atheist's request to halt references to God at President-elect Obama's swearing-in on Jan. 20.

"I think it's highly questionable that I have such authority," said Judge Reggie B. Walton of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia after a two-hour hearing today.

Walton did not dismiss the case, but denied Michael Newdow's request for a preliminary injunction, saying the "ceremonial speech" at the presidential inauguration is "in substance" no different from legislative prayers that the Supreme Court has permitted.

Newdow, an emergency room physician, made his third attempt to have religious references at presidential inaugurations declared unconstitutional. This time, he was joined by 11 atheist and humanist organizations who felt the words "so help me God" in the oath, and references to God in the invocation and benediction, discriminated against them as nonbelievers.

"This is a practice subversive to the principle of equality," argued Newdow. "The harm is it turns people into second-class citizens and you're not allowed to do that."

Walton said he had difficulty understanding how Newdow and other plaintiffs could say they were harmed by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts administering the oath with the words "so help me God" while supporting Obama's personal free exercise to say the same phrase.

"I can tell the chief justice what he can do?" Walton asked Newdow.

"The chief justice is not above the law," responded Newdow, who represented himself and the other plaintiffs.

Newdow also argued that the plaintiffs, including a minor, would feel forced to hear prayers they didn't condone if they watched the inauguration.

"I don't think there is a credible claim of coercion, whether it's a child or an adult," argued Deputy Assistant Attorney General John C. O'Quinn.

In addition to Roberts, Newdow named inaugural planners in the suit, as well as California megachurch pastor Rick Warren and the Rev. Joseph Lowery, who will deliver the invocation and benediction, respectively.

After the hearing, Newdow said he would appeal the ruling but added, "I think it's going to be futile."

Newdow, who also has tried to remove the phrase "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance, was unsuccessful in his efforts to fight inaugural prayers in 2001 and 2005.

Bob Ritter, co-counsel for the defendants, criticized Walton's ruling.

"This case is not about atheists merely 'feeling offended.' There is real harm," he said in a statement. "... All Americans will be injured on Jan. 20 by (dignitaries) ... violating the principle of separation of church and state, which is the basis for our religious liberty."

Comments

Bob: You needed a "palpable injury." What was it? How will all Americans be injured?

"This case is not about atheists merely 'feeling offended.' There is real harm," he said in a statement. "

Real harm? Tell that to the people in Gaza or Israel.

If Newdow is looking for sympathy he can find it in the dictionary between satire and symphony.

So what this genius Newdow is really saying is that we must suppress ALL expressions of religion in order to protect the expression of our religious liberty. Were any of "dignitaries" forcing others in the same expression, or preventing them from the same, he would have a point and a case. As it is, he reminds us again that he is a much better fool than he is a lawyer.

Judge Walton...congratulations on some common sense. Is America a 'christian country' or is it not? I'd say to athiests, I wonder who you'd call on if you or your family were in imminent danger??
God bless Barack Obama for choosing Rick Warren to deliver the Invocation prayer. May the world know once more that God is still on the throne.
May God bless President Elect Obama, his wife Michelle and children on Inauguration Day and throughout their term/s in the White House.
Praying for you in AUSTRALIA.
Every blessing,
Pauline

Amen! May God Bless this great nation!

I find it interesting that Dr. Newdow argues that one man swearing "so help ME God" -- i.e. a personal appeal to one's own chosen faith and Deity -- is somehow a violation of "religious liberty." Isn't his lawsuit a violation of President-elect Obama's right to practice his chosen faith, to pray when and where he wants to, and appeal to whatever help he feels he might need in his struggle to uphold the US Constitution? By trying to force Obama NOT to say "so help me God", Dr. Newdow is coercing Mr. Obama. And if Dr. Newdow feels like Mr. Obama is forcing religion down his throat - which he plainly is not - then perhaps Dr. Newdow should leave the US and head to a country that glorifies atheism - you know, those few stragglers left over from the heyday of Communism, where people are persecuted for their faith. Hmmm... Land of the Free or Home of the Persecuted? Your choice, Dr. Newdow.

I feel that the judge did the right thing. God intervened in this case, even though the atheists are still trying to make a case out of it. God's people have to have the same aggressiveness when it comes down to the Word of God. God wants us to be zealous in efforts to winning souls.

This is for Dr. Newdow and all his followers. USA is a Christian Country, founded on Christian-Judeo tradition. Love it or leave it. You have the freedom to choose where to live, you know that, don't you?

"This would be the best of all possible worlds if there were not religion in it!" - John Adams

"Christianity is the most perverted system that ever shone on man" - Thomas Jefferson

Our founding fathers were not Christians. How is this a Christian country again?

Newdow and Walton are both right. Newdow is right that God has no place in a civil swearing-in ceremony. It's time that religious neutrality extends to unbelievers and we remove the obligatory forms and language of Christianity and religionism from state functions, while permitting and promoting religious tolerance towards all, including public servants in their own lives.

At the same time, Judge Walton is right that he had no authority to issue such an injunction. Existing law would neither recognize a harm or religious significance in such invocations.

I really enjoyed the inauguration ceremony, however, I did feel a little more than annoyed at the inclusion of SO much religious this and god that. He boasts about their patchwork nation full of Hindu people, muslims, buddhists, non believers then he disrespects their beliefs by including matter in the ceremony that could make some citizens feel excluded or singled out for being different in a counrty where being different is one of the main things they are proud of.

It would have offended me if the "So help me God" were NOT used.

In a letter to Benjamin Rush prefacing his "Syllabus of an Estimate of the Merit of the Doctrines of Jesus", Jefferson wrote:
"In some of the delightful conversations with you, in the evenings of 1798–99, and which served as an anodyne to the afflictions of the crisis through which our country was then laboring, the Christian religion was sometimes our topic; and I then promised you, that one day or other, I would give you my views of it. They are the result of a life of inquiry & reflection, and very different from that anti-Christian system imputed to me by those who know nothing of my opinions. To the corruptions of Christianity I am indeed opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian, in the only sense he wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence; & believing he never claimed any other."

Well aware that Almighty God hath created the mind free; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burdens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of our religion, who being Lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do;.. Thomas Jefferson

“The general principles upon which the Fathers achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity…I will avow that I believed and now believe that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and the attributes of God.”
[June 28, 1813; Letter to Thomas Jefferson] John Adams


Religious freedom does not mean that we must include God in our public ceremonies--but that we may. I am thankful that the majority of Americans still support public expression of Christianity.