Newdow, FFRF & Coalition Sue to Halt Inaugural Prayers

Also Asks Roberts to Drop God," Stick to Constitutional Oath

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, its co-presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor and several of its members are among the 29 co-plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit, Newdow v. Roberts, filed today by attorney Michael Newdow in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, seeking to enjoin the Presidential Inaugural Committee from sponsoring prayers at the official Inauguration. The 34-page Legal Complaint also punctures some myths, documenting that for most of our country's history, no clergy led prayers at inaugurations.

The lawsuit similarly seeks to enjoin the Hon. John Roberts, Jr., Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, from adding the religious phrase, "So help me God," to the Presidential oath of office.

Named as defendants are Roberts, and Inaugural committee officials, such as Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chairperson, as well as Revs. Rick Warren and Joe Lowery, who are acting as agents of the state in being invited to deliver the invocation and benediction.

The plaintiffs include a diverse body of U.S. nonbelievers, and their unnamed children, all of whom "have a right to observe their government in action," and all of whom will be watching the inaugural event, some in person, others at home on television. Plaintiffs additionally include other nontheistic groups, such as the American Humanist Association, and regional groups of nonbelievers.

"Interlarding those ceremonies with clergy who espouse sectarian religious dogma does not unite, but rather divides, our citizenry," alleges the Legal Complaint by Mike Newdow. "Similarly, instead of instilling confidence in our governmental structure, it tears at the very foundation upon which that structure is built."

"Atheists are the most despised minority in the land," the Complaint contends. Government-sponsored prayer, and government support of monotheism, "stigmatizes them (atheists) and perpetuates, if not instigates, this situation."

Of the nation's 57 public presidential inaugurations, Newdow points out, 39 were "devoid of clergy-led prayers," and "only 18, spanning the last 72 years, have included them."

All of the latter prayers were Christian-based, and "it is likely that Defendants Warren and/or Lowery will also give patently Christian prayer at the coming inaugural exercises," notes the Complaint. Defendant Rev. Rick Warren has repeatedly asserted, "I could not vote for an atheist because an atheist says, 'I don't need God.' "

The notion that "so help me God" was added to the presidential oath by George Washington is "a myth." Not until 1881, can the first use of "so help me God" as an addition to the presidential oath be traced. The phrase was "apparently used only intermittently until 1933." That unauthorized alteration has been interposed by the Chief Justice since then.

Even though "So help me God" was a phrase deemed unnecessary by the first 20 presidents, the lawsuit does not seek to restrain President-Elect Barack Obama from adding the words, since in doing so he is practicing his free-exercise rights.

But Newdow argues that "there is no authority to alter the text of the Constitution" by the Chief Justice, which action is "an offensive, stigmatizing and [creates] concrete injury" to nonbelievers.

Newdow analyzes legal precedent to show that " 'The government may not . . . lend its power to one or the other side in controversies over religious authority or dogma.' By placing 'so help me God' in its oaths and sponsoring prayers to God, government is lending its power to one side of perhaps the greatest religious controversy: God's existence or nonexistence."

The Complaint notes the harm of religious ritual creeping into government, exemplified by the fact that a member of the Supreme Court itself (Justice Scalia), joined by two of his colleagues, has averred that "the Establishment clause. . . permits the disregard of devout atheists."

"To Plaintiffs," continues the Complaint, "such 'acknowledgments' (much less endorsements) of God . . . serve to remind Plaintiffs of the most egregious past human conduct, where people have done such unfathomable acts as literally burning others alive, merely because their victims held different religious views.

'Acknowledgments' of God remind Plaintiffs of the myriad wars fought by those convinced that their religious 'truths' justified intolerance, and of September 11, 2001, when a fanatic and his religious followers turned four of our airplanes into bombs, murdering 3,000 of our citizens . . . all in the name of God."

The plaintiffs do not consider the references to religion to be an unconstitutional "benignity," but as analogous to the "separate but equal" laws of our nation's earlier history, showing that atheists are "so inferior and so degraded" that their views on religion warrant no respect. When the words "under God" were interlarded with the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954, for instance, Congress specifically noted that it was acting to "to deny . . . atheistic . . . concepts."

"Perhaps most importantly, . . . the Holy Bible, which will be used during the inaugural ceremonies . . . calls anyone who is an atheist a 'fool,' while further making the outlandish, degrading and insulting declarations that atheists "are corrupt, . . . have done abominable works, [and] there is none that doeth good."

It doesn't end there. That book decrees that Plaintiffs 'shall surely be put to death.' " (Lev. 24:16)

The plaintiffs seek to declare that the unauthorized addition of "so help me God" to the constitutionally-prescribed presidential oath of office by the chief justice violates the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Likewise, the use of clergy, and openly Christian clergy, at the presidential inauguration, violates the First Amendment and RFRA.

Read the Legal Complaint Case No. 08-2248 RBW

Mike Newdow's Reply Brief

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., is a national association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics) that has been working since 1978 to keep church and state separate.
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The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

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