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
David A Nakamura
January 15, 2009; 4:21 PM ET
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