Atheists are planning to crash the inauguration invocation, claiming the government is choosing between “believers” and “those who don’t believe” and imposing religion on atheists and agnostics.
Michael Newdow, a California attorney who pushed a case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in an unsuccessful effort to remove the words “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance, is joining Dan Barker, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, in a lawsuit to stop the Presidential Inaugural Committee’s sponsorship of prayer on Jan. 20.
Their 34-page grievance, filed Monday in Washington, D.C., District Court, names Supreme Court Justice John G. Roberts Jr., officials in charge of inaugural activities, Rev. Joseph E. Lowery, pastor Rick Warren and others as defendants. It also aims to prohibit Roberts from using the phrase “So help me God” in the traditional oath of office, Fox News reports.
“We’re hoping to stop prayer and religious rituals at governmental functions, especially at the inauguration,” Barker said. “The inauguration is not a religious event. It is a secular event of a secular country that includes all Americans, including those of us who are not Christians, including those of us who are not believers.”
Barker told Fox the government is not supposed to choose sides when it comes to religion.
It’s “hard wired into our Constitution,” he said, insisting that the 29 atheists and agnostics named in the lawsuit love their country.
“[W]e are subjected to someone else’s religious views with the endorsement of the government, which makes us feel like second class outsiders,” Barker said.
Rather than having religious figures such as Warren and Lowery delivery the invocation and benediction at his inauguration, Barker suggested Barack Obama host a private religious ceremony.
Dan Barker, co-president, Freedom From Religion Foundation (photo: FFRF)
“… Defendants will have an invocation and benediction during the inauguration,” the lawsuit states. “Both of these activities are completely exclusionary, showing absolute disrespect to Plaintiffs and others of similar religious views, who explicitly reject the purely religious claims that will be endorsed, i.e., (a) there exists a God, and (b) the United States government should pay homage to that God.”
“Those people who do pray do believe in God and they are in fact trying to use the government to pick sides,” Barker said. “In America we are free to disagree. We can disagree with Rev. Rick Warren but we’re not free to ask our government to settle the argument.”
But Peter Sprigg, vice president for policy at the Family Research Council, told Fox News the decision is up to Obama, not the government.
“The atheists, while they have every right to practice their atheism, they do not have an absolute right not to be exposed to viewpoints they don’t agree with,” he said. “So I think this lawsuit has no merit whatsoever.”
Sprigg said Barker, Newdow and other atheists involved in the lawsuit are simply confused about the Constitution’s meaning. He believes the suit will fail, just as Newdow was unsuccessful in his lawsuits to ban prayer at President George W. Bush’s ceremonies in 2001 and 2005.
“These atheists who are suing to prevent prayer at the inauguration are showing a fundamental misunderstanding of what the First Amendment is all about,” he told Fox News Radio.” The establishment of religion that is forbidden by the First Amendment means the official declaration of an official national church. It doesn’t mean that public ceremonies cannot include prayers or acknowledgement of the existence of God.”
However, when asked if banning prayer would mean the government is favoring atheists over believers, Barker responded, “There is a difference between neutrality and hostility.”
The case had been brought against Rev. Austin Miles.
But shortly after naming WND as a defendant, Newdow agreed to drop the organization from the complaint.
The case, which originated about six years ago, alleged WND published a quote from Newdow that his daughter “was forced to recite, caused her emotional damage, stress, anxiety and a sense of being left out.”
The lawsuit alleged the quote was never said by Newdow.
But WND did not publish the quotation, and Newdow quickly agreed to dismiss WND as a defendant.