Atheist Loses Bid to Ban Inaugural Prayers

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WASHINGTON (Talon News) — The man who lost a lawsuit last year to strip “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance failed in his most recent battle to keep prayers from being offered during the inauguration ceremonies for President Bush. On Friday, U.S. District Judge John D. Bates rejected atheist Michael Newdow’s challenge to the constitutionality of prayers being offered during the inaugural.

Judge Bates noted that prayer was included in the swearing in ceremonies of presidents beginning with George Washington and practiced ever since. His 49-page decision came as no surprise, even to Newdow.


Bates wrote, “There is a strong argument, that at this late date, the public interest would best be served by allowing the 2005 Inauguration ceremony to proceed on January 20 as planned.”

Bates also pointed out granting an injunction to prevent prayers from being offered at the event would cause “considerable disruption in a significant, carefully-planned, national event, requiring programming and other adjustments.”

He continued, “The material change requested by Newdow in an accepted and well-established historical pattern of short prayers or religious references during Presidential inaugurations, based on this last-minute challenge, is not likely to serve the public interest, particularly where Newdow’s ability to proceed with this action remains in doubt and there is no clear evidence of impermissible sectarian proselytizing.”

The American Center for Law and Justice, a Washington D.C.-based Christian legal group, filed an amicus brief in support of the Justice Department in the challenge. The group also participated in defending against Newdow’s assault on the Pledge.

The Christian Post quoted ACLJ’s Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow as saying, “We’re pleased that the court made the appropriate determination in rejecting Newdow’s argument and clearing the way for prayer to be offered at the Presidential inauguration continuing a time-honored tradition. Michael Newdow apparently will continue his legal quest to remove prayer from the ceremony, but we are confident this flawed legal challenge will fail in the appeals process.”

Last year, Newdow claimed that recitation of the Pledge was an unconstitutional endorsement of religion because it included the words “under God.” The U.S. Supreme Court decided against the California man because it said he lacked legal standing. He recently said that he would refile the suit after being joined by several anonymous parents.

But it is unlikely that prayer would not have been a part of the ceremony whatever the judge decided. President Bush has always been very public about the importance of prayer for him.

During an interview segment with Fox News that aired Sunday night, Bush said, “I pray a lot. … I pray daily … in all kinds of places. I pray when the seas are stormy.”

Ironically, the announcement of the court’s decision came one day before the president marked Religious Freedom Day. It the proclamation, Bush cited the Founding Fathers’ recognition of “the importance of freedom of religion to a stable union.”

He recalled that George Washington wrote, “The liberty enjoyed by the people of these States, of worshipping Almighty God agreeably to their consciences, is not only among the choicest of their blessings, but also of their rights.”

The day commemorates the passage of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom in 1786, which helped set the course for freedom of religion to be included in the First Amendment to our Constitution.

The president pointed out, “Our Constitution protects individuals’ rights to worship as they choose. Today, we continue to welcome the important contributions of people of faith in our society.”

He added, “We reject religious bigotry in every form, striving for a society that honors the life and faith of every person. As we maintain the vitality of a pluralistic society, we work to ensure equal treatment of faith-based organizations and people of faith.”