(Washington, DC, January 15, 2009) A federal district court ruled this afternoon that the 2009 Presidential Inaugural ceremonies may proceed as scheduled with religious references.
U.S. District Court Judge Reggie B. Walton denied a request by thirty individual plaintiffs and eleven organizations to prevent the addition of “so help me God” to the constitutionally prescribed presidential oath and prevent the inclusion of sectarian prayers in the invocation and benediction. Thus, when President-elect Barack Obama is sworn in on Tuesday, January 20, he will continue a tradition that alienates millions of Americans who don’t believe in a god.
Judge Walton said that the plaintiffs lacked standing because they failed to articulate a concrete “harm” that would result from the practices complained of. Moreover, he said that he did not have authority over the Presidential Inaugural Committee because it was an independent entity and not a government agent. Judge Walton saw little difference between constitutional legislative prayer and presidential prayer, rejecting the notion that presidential prayer was more similar to unconstitutional school prayer, which courts have ruled is coercive. When responding to Newdow’s argument that studies show people won’t vote for an atheist for president, Judge Walton stated that dislike for atheists is of their own making.
Bob Ritter, co-counsel for the plaintiffs and attorney with the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, disagreed with the ruling: “Today’s decision involved a motion for preliminary injunction. The plaintiffs still intend to vigorously pursue this case both with respect to the 2009 inauguration as well as for future inaugurals. This case is not about atheists merely ‘feeling offended.’ There is real harm. First, all Americans will be injured on January 20 by the Chief Justice, the Presidential Inaugural Committee and other defendants violating the principle of separation of church and state, which is the basis for our religious liberty.
“Second, the individual plaintiffs, who will be watching the inaugural either in person or on TV, are being denied their free exercise of religion rights by our government telling them that monotheism is the preferred religion in this country and that they are ‘outsiders’ or ‘second-class citizens.’ Where is the unity when some faiths are favored and others disfavored?”
Ritter added: “The plaintiffs are profoundly disappointed with the decision, which goes against a long history of Supreme Court decisions upholding the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.”
Reverend Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, and Reverend Joseph Lowery, cofounder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, are scheduled to give the inaugural invocation and benediction, respectively, with expected sectarian language.
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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 a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism, affirms our responsibility to lead ethical lives of value to self and humanity.