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Michael Newdow

Atheists recruited to be part of a lawsuit that is trying to rid government ceremonies such as the inauguration of a president of any invocation or other prayer have claimed they are made physically ill by prayer.

“As I watched the inauguration, my stomach did a somersault with disgust for how much our country was violating the constitution (sic), the most important document in our country,” wrote a 15-year-old in testimony being given to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

The lawsuit was filed before President Obama’s inauguration and subsequently was dismissed at the district court level. Briefs now are being submitted to the appeals court in plaintiffs’ hopes the case will be reopened.

“I felt a temporary state of disconnection when these religious statements and prayers were made during the inauguration,” wrote another plaintiff, according to an appendix of information submitted with the plaintiffs’ recent arguments in the case.

“All the prayers made me feel excluded from the political process and a second-class citizen,” wrote another. “But, when Chief Justice Roberts asked the president to say, ‘So help me God,’ I felt threatened and sick to my stomach.”

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Officials with the Pacific Justice Institute, who are defending the Revs. Rick Warren and Joseph Lowery, who spoke at the inauguration, said in their response that the Constitution simply does not require that the government be “amoral or atheistic.”

“Prayers designed to solemnize public events have a long and venerable history in our nation,” said PJI Chief Counsel Kevin Snider, who authored the brief rebutting the claims.

“The First Amendment cannot be divorced from common sense,” added Brad Dacus, president of PJI. “While atheists, humanists and freethinkers are a tiny minority in America, they are free to express and practice their lack of faith as they please.

“That does not mean,” he continued, “however, that the vast majority of God-fearing citizens and public officials must be silenced in order to appease them.”

The complaint originally was filed by a long list of people who describe themselves as atheists, as well as the Freedom from Religion Foundation, the American Humanist Association, Atheists United, Atheists for Human Rights and Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers.

The trial court judge speculated he didn’t have the authority to censor speech at the inauguration. And he suggested that perhaps a sitting federal judge did not have the authority to instruct the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and the soon-to-be commander-in-chief what they could and could not say at an inauguration.

Eventually the case was dismissed because the inauguration, at which the atheists wanted to prevent any prayer, already had taken place.

The case named those involved in the inauguration as defendants. The ministers, Warren and Lowery, offered prayers at the inauguration and also are named as defendants. They are being represented in the dispute by PJI.

The PJI response noted that Michael Newdow, a California lawyer who has litigated over references to God a number of times, previously challenged inaugural prayers twice and twice has had his arguments rejected.

However, in this case he goes so far as to suggest an ulterior motive in having invocations and benedictions at Washington ceremonies.

“Plaintiffs … contend that the ‘real meaning’ of these declarations goes far beyond that constitutional benignity [of affirming believers' views], for they contain an element analogous to the ‘real meaning’ of the ‘separate but equal’ laws of our nation’s earlier history and tradition,” the atheists argue.

“Specifically, the ‘real meaning’ is that Atheists are ‘so inferior and so degraded’ that their religious views warrant no respect,” they allege.

 


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