Filed to Stop Injection of God into Inauguration
For Immediate Release - Contact: Roy Speckhardt
(Washington, DC, December 30, 2008) Today eleven nontheistic organizations and twenty-nine nontheistic individuals, led by Michael Newdow, filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to stop plans to include prayer and a religious oath in the forthcoming inauguration of Barack Obama as president of the United States.
The complaint was filed by Michael Newdow, famous for litigation on the Pledge of Allegiance, the American Humanist Association, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Atheist Alliance International, and others. It addresses constitutional concerns regarding the intended use of the phrase "so help me God" in the swearing-in ceremony and sectarian prayer in the invocation and benediction. Included as defendants in the suit are Chief Justice John Roberts, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Major General Richard J. Rowe Jr., the Reverend Rick Warren and the Reverend Joe Lowery.
"The use of sectarian prayer and religious phrases during the inauguration not only violates a clear reading of the First Amendment, it serves as a justification for the breach of church-state separation in other areas," said Bob Ritter, staff attorney for the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, the legal arm of the American Humanist Association. "This is a foundational suit--to challenge the origination of many Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause violations."
In the complaint, which levels six counts against inauguration plans, the plaintiffs declare their belief that Chief Justice Roberts will "infuse the inaugural ceremony with purely religious dogma" in the form of the words "so help me God" added to the secular language of the presidential oath spelled out in the constitution. The plaintiffs further argue that anticipated use of the Bible in the inauguration suggests government endorsement of the specifically anti-atheist pronouncements written therein. Further, the plaintiffs charge that the government will violate the Establishment Clause when it uses inaugural prayers of a clearly religious nature. And they charge that the government will violate the Free Exercise rights of nontheists and others when it requires them "to confront official endorsements of religious dogma with which they disagree" as "the price to pay for observing a governmental ceremony," one that is "the grandest ceremony in our national existence."
In response to the observation that, in the past, other suits have been launched concerning sectarian prayer on Inauguration Day, Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association, noted that "Those suits were thrown out due to issues of standing. But we're confident in the current suit, involving multiple plaintiffs, that our standing is sound. We therefore expect this case to move forward."
The suit was filed today at the U.S. District Court in Washington, DC, and calls upon the court to decide the matter before the January 20, 2009, inauguration ceremonies. The full text of the complaint is available online.
HEARING GRANTED on Suit to Stop Religion at Inauguration
(Washington, DC, January 6, 2009) Shortly before the close of business yesterday, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia granted a hearing in Newdow v. Roberts. The hearing is scheduled for January 15, 2009.
This is the case in which eleven nontheistic organizations and twenty-nine nontheistic individuals, led by Michael Newdow, sued to stop plans to include prayer and a religious oath in the forthcoming inauguration of Barack Obama as president of the United States.
"If we prevail at the January 15 hearing, this inauguration will be secular, as it should be under the Constitution," said Bob Ritter, staff attorney for the Appignani Humanist Legal Center of the American Humanist Association and co-counsel in the case.
The complaint was filed by Michael Newdow--famous for litigation on the Pledge of Allegiance--the American Humanist Association, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Atheist Alliance International and others. It addresses constitutional concerns regarding the intended use of the phrase "so help me God" in the swearing-in ceremony and sectarian prayer in the invocation and benediction. Included as defendants in the suit are Chief Justice John Roberts, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Major General Richard J. Rowe Jr., the Reverend Rick Warren and the Reverend Joe Lowery.
In his order granting the hearing, U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton gave the defendants until 5 p.m., January 7, 2009, to file any opposition to the plaintiffs' motion. The hearing will take place January 15, 2009, at 2 p.m. in Courtroom 16 of the E. Barrett Prettyman United States Courthouse, 333 Constitution Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20001.
"From the very start, we were confident in the legal merits of this case," declared Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. "This is foundational litigation aimed at defending central principles enshrined in the U.S. Constitution."
The full text of the complaint, the motion for preliminary injunction, and the court order for the hearing are all available online at:
The original press release announcing the litigation is at:
(Washington, DC, January 15, 2009) A federal district court ruled this afternoon that the 2009 Presidential Inaugural ceremonies may proceed as scheduled with religious references.
U.S. District Court Judge Reggie B. Walton denied a request by thirty individual plaintiffs and eleven organizations to prevent the addition of "so help me God" to the constitutionally prescribed presidential oath and prevent the inclusion of sectarian prayers in the invocation and benediction. Thus, when President-elect Barack Obama is sworn in on Tuesday, January 20, he will continue a tradition that alienates millions of Americans who don't believe in a god.
Judge Walton said that the plaintiffs lacked standing because they failed to articulate a concrete "harm" that would result from the practices complained of. Moreover, he said that he did not have authority over the Presidential Inaugural Committee because it was an independent entity and not a government agent. Judge Walton saw little difference between constitutional legislative prayer and presidential prayer, rejecting the notion that presidential prayer was more similar to unconstitutional school prayer, which courts have ruled is coercive. When responding to Newdow's argument that studies show people won't vote for an atheist for president, Judge Walton stated that dislike for atheists is of their own making.
Bob Ritter, co-counsel for the plaintiffs and attorney with the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, disagreed with the ruling: "Today's decision involved a motion for preliminary injunction. The plaintiffs still intend to vigorously pursue this case both with respect to the 2009 inauguration as well as for future inaugurals. This case is not about atheists merely 'feeling offended.' There is real harm. First, all Americans will be injured on January 20 by the Chief Justice, the Presidential Inaugural Committee and other defendants violating the principle of separation of church and state, which is the basis for our religious liberty.
"Second, the individual plaintiffs, who will be watching the inaugural either in person or on TV, are being denied their free exercise of religion rights by our government telling them that monotheism is the preferred religion in this country and that they are 'outsiders' or 'second-class citizens.' Where is the unity when some faiths are favored and others disfavored?"
Ritter added: "The plaintiffs are profoundly disappointed with the decision, which goes against a long history of Supreme Court decisions upholding the Establishment Clause of the Constitution."
Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California,
and Reverend Joseph Lowery, cofounder of the Southern Christian
Leadership Conference, are scheduled to give the inaugural invocation
and benediction, respectively, with expected sectarian language.
The American Humanist Association (www.americanhumanist.org) advocates for the rights and viewpoints of humanists. Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., its work is extended through more than 100 local chapters and affiliates across America.
Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism, affirms our responsibility to lead ethical lives of value to self and humanity.