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Judge: References to God Okay During Inauguration

A federal judge moments ago cleared the way for government officials and ministers to pray and make references to God during the swearing-in of President-elect Barack Obama on Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton refused to grant an injunction preventing such references in a lawsuit brought by a group of atheists. The atheists had argued that the use of prayer and the words “so help me God” by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. while administering the oath of office violated their Constitutional rights. Walton ruled that he did not have the power to prevent Obama from making such references or inviting ministers on stage to offer prayers.

The group of atheists, led by Californian Michael A. Newdow, sued Roberts, several officials in charge of inaugural festivities, the Rev. Joseph E. Lowery and megachurch pastor Rick Warren.

They filed the complaint in U.S. District Court. Newdow failed in similar lawsuits to remove prayer from President Bush’s swearing-in ceremonies in 2001 and 2005.

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

Newdow and others urged Walton to prevent Roberst from using the phrase "so help me God” in the inaugural oath. They said those words have no place in the Constitution and had been used only “intermittantly” in the oath until 1933 with President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s inauguration. They called the use of “so help me God” an “unauthorized alteration” by the chief justice of the Supreme Court, who administers the oath.

By Del Quentin Wilber

By David A Nakamura  |  January 15, 2009; 4:21 PM ET  | Category:  Swearing-in Ceremony
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Unconstitutional and undemocratic. This is a secular nation and a secular government. End of story.

Posted by: anarcho-liberal-tarian | January 15, 2009 5:14 PM | Report abuse

Fundamentalist atheists need to get a grip.

If saying "so help me God" makes the oath an unbreakable pact in the mind of the oath taker, no one has a right to deny them the ability to say those words.

Posted by: wave41 | January 16, 2009 1:08 AM | Report abuse

Why do atheists think their lack of belief in God trumps free speech ? If they are so offended by the mention of God, hit the MUTE button on their TV's. They have gone too far to eliminate God from our lives, why don't they just move to a godless country, there are plenty to choose from. They use the Constitution as a weapon to promote their agenda . Nobody cares what Michael Newdow thinks. People find comfort in God, if that's too secular for you, leave, or don't watch, or don't listen. Problem solved.

Posted by: rannan3 | January 16, 2009 1:45 PM | Report abuse

The lawsuit did not seek to prevent Obama from saying 'so help me god'. It sought, and still seeks, (since it wasn't dismissed), to prevent the Chief Justice from saying it. The oath is clearly specified in the Constitution and does not include 'so help me god'. To have the Chief Justice utter something that un-Constitutionally promotes a religion (the Judeo-Christian one) when he is the top judicant in the US and supposedly swears to uphold the Constitution is mind-boggling.

People say, "Oh what's the big deal that is getting these atheists so upset?" Imagine if the Chief Justice uttered "So help me Allah or Shiva". I shudder to think of the Christian wailing and protest that would ensue, over something that "isn't such a big deal."

The simple solution is to keep ALL religious verbiage out of what it a secular governmental oath, just like the Constitution mandates.

Posted by: gillyala | January 16, 2009 5:05 PM | Report abuse

Just want to second what gillyala said: this is a suit to eliminate the completely arbitrary alteration of the oath _as administered by (in this case) the Chief Justice_.

Unfortunately, as a number of other Federally mandated oaths include the phrase, I think we're out of luck. Regardless, I'll say it: why do we want it out? It's the perpetuation of a MYTH. So help me Thor.

Posted by: amateur6 | January 21, 2009 7:12 AM | Report abuse

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