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Atheists to Challenge Prayer at Inauguration


President George W. Bush bows his head in prayer at the 55th Presidential Inauguration on January 20, 2005. Behind him are his daughters, Barbara and Jenna, and First Lady Laura Bush. (Dennis Brack/Bloomberg)

A group of atheists, led by a California man known for challenging “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools, plan to file a lawsuit today to bar prayer at the swearing-in of President-elect Barack Obama.

Michael A. Newdow, 17 other individuals and 10 groups representing atheists sued Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., several officials in charge of inaugural festivities and Rev. Joseph E. Lowery and pastor Rick Warren.

Roberts will administer the oath of office to Obama at the Jan. 20 ceremony while Warren and Lowery are scheduled to deliver the invocation and benediction, respectively.

“...Defendants will have an invocation and benediction during the inauguration,” a draft of the lawsuit reads. “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.”

Newdow unsuccessfully sued to remove prayer from President George W. Bush’s swearing-in ceremonies in 2001 and 2005.

Today’s legal move is the latest controversy surrounding the swearing-in. Gay rights advocates and liberal groups were outraged by Obama’s selection of Warren, who endorsed Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in California.

By Nikita R Stewart  |  December 30, 2008; 1:28 PM ET  | Category:  Swearing-in Ceremony
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Comments



Well, that's a fancy way of trying to get Rev Warren to shut up

Posted by: wonkguy | December 30, 2008 2:06 PM | Report abuse

More power to Newdow!

Posted by: Rich393 | December 30, 2008 2:11 PM | Report abuse

I'm also not sure that the prayer is Constitutional, as the Constitution is currently interpreted by some. (Sure seems likely to me that the framers would not have contemplated the elimination the inaugural prayer, but that's not always a relevant question to judges.)

However, setting aside questions of legality, I plead with my fellow citizens to permit this public display of homage. I feel more comfortable in a society where such homage is permitted as a recognition of something higher than ourselves. Seems more humble to me. If God does not exist, no harm in praying. If he does, we could use the help.

Posted by: Good2bOK | December 30, 2008 2:33 PM | Report abuse

We've seen the damage wrought by our so-called "representatives" that listen to the voices in their head instead of those of experts or their constituents. Haven't we learned yet?

Posted by: fluxgirl | December 30, 2008 2:38 PM | Report abuse

If we allow prayer, why not something other than the mainstream Christian religions? Where is the Jewish, Muslim, or Buddhist prayer?

Posted by: mdembski1 | December 30, 2008 2:53 PM | Report abuse

Is this serious? Aren't there better ways to use our court system than waste time and money on such frivolous lawsuits? I'm not a fan of state-sponsored religious demonstrations, but this is just plain stupid.

Posted by: MPersow | December 30, 2008 2:55 PM | Report abuse

Why do atheists feel they are any less absolute than theists, they are not.

You want an invocation by an open and tolerant mind, invite an agnostic.

Posted by: Billy1932 | December 30, 2008 3:01 PM | Report abuse

Well, we've finally elected a minority president. Now we need to elect one intelligent enough to recognize that god is (or gods are) a myth, nothing more than that. What a great day that will be!

Posted by: itchy2008 | December 30, 2008 3:02 PM | Report abuse

I encourage all of those who choose not to pray, not pray. I also suggest that they do not listen.
As far as Gay rights, I suggest that they marry if they wish but that none of the participants in the inaugual program be compelled to perform the ceremony. The catholic church and other churches have a right to refuse heterosexuals from being married in their church. many churches require you to take classes before you can become a member and others question your belief in their doctrine. It is so wonderful that our nation allows freedom of worship. These groups seam to want to suppress that freedom. They have the freedom not to worship. How great that is.

Posted by: sm98yth | December 30, 2008 3:34 PM | Report abuse


Good for them! And Christians ought to line up beside them, because biblically one should pray at home, in church, or by oneself, “in one’s closet” — but these political shows are nothing else by Taking the Name of Thy God in Vain. Breaking the 10 Commandments in this way is no way to start an administration.

Posted by: johnnormansp | December 30, 2008 4:02 PM | Report abuse

This responds to sm98yth, who wrote: "As far as Gay rights, I suggest that they marry if they wish but that none of the participants in the inaugual program be compelled to perform the ceremony. The catholic church and other churches have a right to refuse heterosexuals from being married in their church. many churches require you to take classes before you can become a member and others question your belief in their doctrine. It is so wonderful that our nation allows freedom of worship. These groups seam to want to suppress that freedom. They have the freedom not to worship. How great that is."

If you are referring to the debate over gay marriage, whether in California or elsewhere, you should know that the legalization of gay marriage WOULD UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES COMPEL ANY RELIGIOUS INSTITUTION OR CLERGYPERSON to perform one, and would permit religious institutions to continue to set criteria for membership and espouse whatever doctrines they wish, including those related to homosexuality.

The legalization of gay marriage in California, Massachusetts and elsewhere would ONLY affect the CIVIL LEGAL STATUS of the couples, and would have no effect on religion WHATSOEVER.

How many times do we need to keep saying this?

Posted by: Meridian1 | December 30, 2008 4:03 PM | Report abuse

Idiots like Newdow should be shot. These people are to stupid top even understand the Constitution and what the separation of church and state means. They simply use the Constitution to further their own cause. The separation of church and state was intended to prevent the church from becoming involved in the Gov. not to force people from saying prayer or In God We Trust from being printed on our money. We shouldn't allow idiots like Newdow to even walk among us.

Posted by: askgees | December 30, 2008 4:10 PM | Report abuse

Why do atheists feel they are any less absolute than theists, they are not.

You want an invocation by an open and tolerant mind, invite an agnostic.

Posted by: Billy1932 | December 30, 2008 3:01 PM

------------------------------------------

Thank you, thank you, thank you !!!

From a fellow agnostic who is tired of the New Atheists lumping my viewpoint in with theirs.

At least we don't have the arrogant sense of hubris to think we KNOW the correct answer(s), unlike New Atheists and the Religious Right.

Mere mortals, as we Homo Sapiens are, cannot possibly fathom all that is in the Universe -- sacred texts and Sam Harris/Richard Dawkins notwithstanding -- either this one we inhabit or the others that may exist.

Posted by: phoenixresearch | December 30, 2008 4:59 PM | Report abuse

Great! This country has been getting farther away from God and religion for many years, largely thanks to liberals. Of course a prayer at the inauguration isn't creating a state religion, nor does it force religion down anyones throat. Don't want to hear the prayer? Plug your ears and yell "na-na-na-na-na-na", like my kids used to do. Hate to break it to you folks, but the Constitution guarantees freedom OF religion, not freedom FROM religion. The Founding Fathers obviously were a religious bunch, and the "endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights" line in the preamble is proof of that. Atheists think that public prayer forces religion on them, fine, they're allowed to feel that way if they like. But they should not be allowed to force their LACK of religion on anyone else. Don't like the movie? LEAVE. Don't like what's on TV? Turn it OFF. Don't like prayer at the inauguration? Stay AWAY from the inauguration.

Posted by: pwhited | December 30, 2008 5:22 PM | Report abuse

We just suffered through 8 years of a government(badly) run by a Party and President that encouraged the inclusion (intrusion?) of 'faith-based' values in the hiring and execution of numerous government functions. How did that work out? We're in the deepest hole we've been in in generations. Let the civil functions of government be free of religious intrusion. If you want to 'worship' go do it your house of worship. Otherwise, leave the rest of the country free of your weird religious fantasies.

Posted by: thebobbob | December 30, 2008 5:36 PM | Report abuse

Faith is a vice! The spectacle of seeing it on display at the inauguration of a U.S. president is revolting and embarassing.

Posted by: MelJM | December 30, 2008 5:37 PM | Report abuse

Thank You,
thank you for standing up for what is right.I sued the government 7 years ago and stopped prayer in places it does not belong it was a painful process. The hatred spewed at us from our Christian neighbors was at times almost unbearable. It took a federal judge to stop this prayer. It was rather interesting when the inlaws who are highly religious and share our name received all those midnight phone calls that were brutally obscene and at times sounded life threatening in their content. It opened their eyes to the dangers of religion and rule of law mingeling. Christians and non Christians share similar humanistic rules of ethics that have proven good to live by over the millenia. Many gods have come and gone and some rules have outlived their origins because they have proven their worth even though their gods are lonesome now. And last but not least if you are a believer, remember an atheist only believes in one less god then you do.

Posted by: I-am-B | December 30, 2008 5:39 PM | Report abuse

To pwhited:
You are quoting the Preamble to the wrong document. We are discussing the First Amendment to the US Constitution here, which guarantees freedom of religion (or as interpreted, no religion). The founding fathers invoked a Creator and "inalienable rights" in the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence. The Preamble to the Constitution lays out the reasons for establishing the Constitution and makes no reference to a Creator or inalienable rights. The Constitution, not the Declaration of Independence, is the legal basis for our government. The Declaration was a document to separate the colonies from England.

Posted by: stickler1 | December 30, 2008 5:47 PM | Report abuse

Atheists are the folks ruining whatever is left of a decent nation.

That's all I'm saying about that....

Posted by: hereNow | December 30, 2008 5:48 PM | Report abuse

Agreed, no prayer and the president-elect should swear his oath on a box of any worthless stock of his choosing. One catch though, if the deists give this up it only seems fair that the atheists, minuscule and powerless as they are, give up the superstition of human progress and the power of reason to explain the world. Fair trade, I think.

Posted by: medogsbstfrnd | December 30, 2008 6:33 PM | Report abuse

What a great country we have.

An intolerant liberal, Michael Newdow, and others have filed suit because they don't want believers to exercise their own right to assert a belief in God.

Newdow and his supporters assert there is no God and they do not want others asserting there is.

So they have filed a lawsuit.

They'll get publicity and the lawsuit will be tossed.

Posted by: jbartelloni | December 30, 2008 6:42 PM | Report abuse

There is no scientific evidence of God's existence. Nevertheless, in our Tradition-bound country, people insist on praying to Him. Besides, it would be silly for people to pray to "Mr. Chairman," as they do in committee meetings on The Hill. In order give proceedings the proper solemnity, one must invoke a deity. Otherwise, it is just a bunch of rich, white men gathered together to install a new president. I, for one, will silently invoke the power of Zeus.

Posted by: BlueTwo1 | December 30, 2008 6:44 PM | Report abuse

I heard this guy on the radio this morning, and he is a knucklehead. He likened atheists' having to listen to a prayer or the word "God" to having separate water fountains for blacks and whites in the 50s.

Goofball.

Posted by: waterfrontproperty | December 30, 2008 6:46 PM | Report abuse


Since as pwhited put it "Hate to break it to you folks, but the Constitution guarantees freedom OF religion, not freedom FROM religion.", I propose that we incorporate everyone's religious beliefs into this national celebration.

Personally, I believe the Romans had the right idea about what to do with Christians.
In order to accommodate everyone's religious beliefs, I suggest we incorporate a public feeding of the lions into the inauguration.
It seems that those most of those in favor of public prayer have never actually read the bible, because if they did they would realize that Jesus spoke against public prayer during his sermon on the mount in the Book of Matthew chapter 6 verse 5. (that's that obscure passage immediately proceeding what is commonly known as "the lords Prayer")
But then, since when do Christians care what Jesus had to say about anything?

Posted by: jweider007 | December 30, 2008 6:55 PM | Report abuse

what is the point of removing the word god from goverment it does not say whos god its a fill in the blank statement and were in the bill or rights or the constitutiuon there is. no seperation of church and state its a liberal crap. its there shall be no offical religion not no religion you can pray to whatever you want or dont.

Posted by: getsix1 | December 30, 2008 7:20 PM | Report abuse

"Freedom of religion" NOT Freedom from religion"

Once again proving that atheists have the lowest IQ of all humans

Posted by: Beachesofindy | December 30, 2008 7:25 PM | Report abuse

Why can't people let Obama have his day? There are 300 million people in this country and if we dumb down the Inauguration so that each and every one of us are totally happy - it'll never happen. When we elect an atheist president, then he/she can decide not to have a prayer. But this is Obama's day, and I wish people would take the chip off their shoulder, graduate from Romper Room, and get a bleedin' life!

Posted by: mwcob | December 30, 2008 7:44 PM | Report abuse

How much more pathetic can we get, a nation of troubled citizens, complain, complain, complain.

Posted by: shipfreakbo214 | December 30, 2008 8:09 PM | Report abuse

It isn't the function of the federal government to hold religious ceremonies, nor is it proper for the chief justice of the supreme court to add words to the oath of office that aren't there.

Posted by: BrianWestley | December 30, 2008 8:12 PM | Report abuse

I can't figure out liberal
atheists who want to stop public
prayer. It is our (Christians)
constitutional right to freedom
of religion guaranteed and expressed publicly. Leave President elect Obama alone and let him say his
prayers.

Posted by: rambleru12 | December 30, 2008 8:29 PM | Report abuse

It seems a lot of people have no better things to do in America,that is why you find people like these filing lawsuits against issues that will not bring one penny into the American economy,or like the other lawsuit against the president elects birth.I mean lets be realistic these people are only trying their best to sabotage the revival of America's stability.These people could be some foreign spies or American traitors being financed by some foreign country to disstabilize America the more,no patiot acts the way they are acting.

Posted by: eric241 | December 30, 2008 8:51 PM | Report abuse

Christians: Would you support the Prez swearing to Allah on the Koran, if he/she so chose, in place of to "God" (read: Christian God, wink, wink) on the Bible? If not, then your outrage against those wanting to remove references to an alleged higher being smacks of plain ol' egocentric hypocrisy. However, if you would welcome a swearing in that references god(s) that is/are not what we all have come to understand is your god, then I applaud your liberal and tolerant view and I am less troubled by the reference to a Great Spirit of some sort. Whaddya say? Are you in it just for your religion, or what?

Posted by: fighttheman | December 30, 2008 9:15 PM | Report abuse

Beachesofindy stated, ""Freedom of religion" NOT Freedom from religion"

Once again proving that atheists have the lowest IQ of all humans."

It's not a question of freedom from religion.

It's a matter of governmental promotion of religion. The Supreme Court set up a three part test in Lemon v. Kurtzman against which governmental actions should be judged. The first is that the action must have a secular purpose. This issue fails on that part alone.

Read the Court's findings, then we'll talk IQs.

Posted by: Mike_K | December 30, 2008 9:17 PM | Report abuse

It's exclusionary if I eat chicken livers and you detest them - especially if I'm President of the United States and do it on TV during the State of the Union Address. (Elect me, and I might!)

Tough luck, buddy. Freedom doesn't mean that every public observance will be dumbed down so as not to offend the sensibilities of a single cantankerous, litigious citizen.

Posted by: officermancuso | December 30, 2008 9:22 PM | Report abuse

Why is it when it comes to God and Jesus, people have a problem with it? Christians don't go around dictating how everyone else should pray in their faith, but when it comes to our faith, every fool has an opinion. Atheists, get over yourselves. Just because you don't believe God exists doesn't give you the right to impose your beliefs on the rest of us that do. Gay activists, get over yourselves. Just because you choose an "alternate lifestyle" which goes against the norm, doesn't mean that the rest of us have to accept it. You don't like Obama's prayers, then say your own. The President-elect's beliefs are his own and like everyone else in this country, he has a right to pray and worship according to his beliefs and should be allowed to do so. Not everyone agrees, but, you got it...get over yourself.

Posted by: jameon | December 30, 2008 10:48 PM | Report abuse

Seems like this opened up a can of worms. While they are wasting their time doing this, they could better serve the community by volunteering or doing something productive. What a waste of time and life!

Posted by: msvon60 | December 30, 2008 11:01 PM | Report abuse

"they could better serve the community by volunteering or doing something productive."

Upholding the Supreme Court's decisions is productive.

Posted by: Mike_K | December 30, 2008 11:25 PM | Report abuse

"

"Freedom of religion" NOT Freedom from religion"

Once again proving that atheists have the lowest IQ of all humans
"

The IQ question, I will leave to the readers to resolve. There can be no freedom of choice if the choices are limited. One of the choices that must be available is "No."

One needs to read the works of John Leland, a Baptist very vocal about the need for a secular society and government. You should also read up on James Madison, and in particular his "Memorial and Remonstrance." Read up on Thomas Jefferson (without grabbing and posting a quotemine.)

The Framers and the people they represented, were a mix of religious and infidel and they wanted a unified country. They recognized that imposing a state religion, or a religious state, was a means by which to contentiously divide a fragile republic. The idea that there should be official prayer (as represented by Invocations and Benedictions) was only recently introduced, and it was FDR who was the first President to establish it as custom.

Christians seemed to get along fine before then. All people, theist and non-theist alike need to know that the government represents us as people, and not for our beliefs. The Inaugural Benediction and Convocations serve as beacons of warning on our shores, that freedom does not exist here; go elsewhere for freedom of thought.

Posted by: tuibguy | December 31, 2008 7:31 AM | Report abuse

Nedow and his group will do anything to get attention. They are pain in the proverbial......

I hope that prayer continues to be a part of the inauguration events. If these guys dont want to tune in... do something else. Let those who appreciate it for what it is expereince it without the drama. These detractors, a bunch of liberals with nothing to do. Enuf!

Hope the Supreme Court does what it did in the past... allow the tradition to continue. I will make sure when the Nedows among us run for president... I tune out.

Posted by: Victoria5 | January 2, 2009 1:17 AM | Report abuse

While faith certainly isn't a vice, it's about time that the Church is shut out of our government. This is not about religion--this is about politics. Besides, the blessings bestowed by thousands of supporters, secular or not, should be enough to keep Obama on the right side of fate for some time.

Posted by: phillipvollman | January 2, 2009 3:51 PM | Report abuse

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