California atheist Michael Newdow’s lawsuit to block prayer at President Bush’s inauguration has no merit, contends the American Center for Law and Justice, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief arguing the religious invocation is constitutional.

Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the ACLJ, called Newdow’s challenge a “legally flawed” attempt to “remove a time-honored tradition going back to the nation’s first president.”


“The expression of prayer at the presidential inauguration is not only constitutional, but an important part of the history and heritage of this nation,” he said.

The official inauguration website indicates the president will chose a minister to “deliver an invocation” before he takes the oath of office Jan. 20.

Newdow brought a similiar challenge four years ago that was rejected by the courts, and Sekulow believes the current one will meet the same fate.

Last year, the ACLJ fought Newdow’s challenge to the Pledge of Allegiance, which the high court rejected because he did not have legal standing to represent his daughter, who is under sole custody of her mother.

Last Tuesday, Newdow filed a new Pledge complaint in federal court in Sacramento, Calif., with eight new co-plaintiffs, seeking to remove “under God” from the Pledge on the grounds it violates the so-called “separation of church and state.”

The ACLJ’s brief in the inaugural-prayer challenge — filed with the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., in support of the Department of Justice — contends Newdow’s lawsuit is a “personal crusade” that “serves no purpose other than to waste judicial resources at a time in our nation’s history when those resources are needed in cases involving real threats to American liberties.”

The ACLJ points to the 1983 Supreme Court decision, Marsh vs. Chambers, which held that the “opening of sessions of legislative and other deliberative public bodies with prayer is deeply embedded in the history and tradition of this country.”

The high court also noted the first Congress “did not consider opening prayers as a proselytizing activity or as symbolically placing the government’s official seal of approval on one religious view.”

The ACLJ brief also states virtually every president since George Washington has evoked assistance of the Divine and asked for the blessing of the nation and its people.

In his first inaugural address, Washington proclaimed that “no people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States” because “every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency.”

Related story:

‘Pledge atheist’ sues to block Bush prayer


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