A federal judge in Washington, D.C., has denied a request by atheists to stop prayers at Tuesday’s presidential inauguration.
Atheists planned 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, joined 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.
It also aimed to prohibit Roberts from using the phrase “So help me God” in the traditional oath of office.
Their 34-page grievance, filed in Washington, D.C., District Court, named Supreme Court Justice John G. Roberts Jr., officials in charge of inaugural activities, Rev. Joseph E. Lowery, pastor Rick Warren and others as defendants.
“We’re hoping to stop prayer and religious rituals at governmental functions, especially at the inauguration,” Barker told Fox News when the complaint was filed. “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.”
Rather than having religious figures such as Warren and Lowery delivery the invocation and benediction at his inauguration, Barker suggested 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.”
Pacific Justice Institute’s Kevin Snider argued on behalf of Pastor Rick Warren. U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton ruled in favor of the defendants, refusing to halt Inauguration Day prayers. He also rejected Barker and Newdow’s requests to stop Chief Justice Roberts from saying “so help me God” at the end of the presidential oath.
This lawsuit was Newdow’s third attempt to stop inaugural prayers since 2001. He has lost every case.
“Michael Newdow may have thought the third time was the charm with this lawsuit, but thankfully the court agreed with us, and three strikes means he’s out,” Pacific Justice Institute President Brad Dacus said in a statement. “The very notion that a federal district judge should order either the Chief Justice or the President-elect’s invited clergy what to say or not say is just censorship by another name.”