For Immediate Release
(Washington, D.C., December 15, 2009) The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit heard oral arguments today in Newdow v. Roberts, a case that challenges the infusion of religion into presidential inaugural ceremonies. With the support of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, the legal arm of the American Humanist Association, lead plaintiff Michael Newdow argued today that the United States District Court for the District of Columbia erred by failing to follow Supreme Court precedent when it previously dismissed Newdow v. Roberts.
“The use of sectarian prayer and religious phrases during the inauguration not only violates a clear reading of the First Amendment, but court approval of the practices serve as a justification for the breach of church-state separation in other areas,” said Bob Ritter, staff attorney for the Appignani Humanist Legal Center. “This is a foundational suit–to challenge Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause violations by the highest levels of all three branches of government.”
In mid-January, the District Court denied Newdow’s request for a preliminary injunction to prevent Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. from appending “so help me God” to the presidential oath and a clergy-led prayer at the 2009 presidential inauguration. Subsequently, on March 12, U.S. District Court Judge Reggie B. Walton ruled that all plaintiffs lack standing to pursue such cases. Today, the plaintiffs challenged this ruling, arguing that, according to Supreme Court precedent, the “unwelcome exposure” suffered by the plaintiffs constitutes grounds for standing.
Although the District Court didn’t restrain the religious observances at Obama’s inauguration, in an amended complaint the plaintiffs have asked the District Court to prohibit government endorsements of religion in the forthcoming 2013 and 2017 presidential inaugurals.
“The point of this lawsuit is to ensure that all Americans will one day be free of proselytism by government officials or the religious leaders they select,” said Ritter. “Freedom of religion includes freedom from government-sponsored religion. The Supreme Court has repeatedly said that government may not prefer one religion over another, or religion over nonreligion.”
The full text of the complaint is available online. http://www.humanistlegalcenter.org/cases/Invocation/Invocation.html
Today, despite the objections of the plaintiffs, court opened with the cry “God save the United States and this Honorable Court.” Last week, they had filed an emergency motion in attempt to have the court abstain from the opening cry.
“The plaintiffs in Newdow v. Roberts deeply regret the Court of Appeals decision denying our emergency motion to dispense with the court’s opening cry of ‘God save the United States and this Honorable Court!’” said Ritter. “The decision appears to reflect a bias by the court in favor of government endorsement of Monotheism (Christian preferred)–the very issue before them in this case.”
The American Humanist Association (www.americanhumanist.org) advocates for the rights and viewpoints of humanists. Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., its work is extended through more than 100 local chapters and affiliates across America.
Humanism is the idea that you can be good without a belief in God.