(Washington, DC, January 8, 2009) Today the attorneys general of all 50 states, plus the U.S. Virgin Islands, filed a friend of the court brief in Newdow v. Roberts, the lawsuit that aims to remove religious ceremonies from the presidential inauguration of Barack Obama. (Not joining in the brief are other U.S. territories and the District of Columbia.)
The suit, originally filed by Michael Newdow and 28 other individuals, plus 11 nontheistic organizations, has not only raised controversy but also generated immediate action by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. On January 5, 2009, U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton ordered a hearing, giving the defendants until 5 p.m., January 7, 2009, to file any opposition to the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction. Among the defendants are Chief Justice John Roberts, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Major General Richard J. Rowe Jr., the Reverend Rick Warren and the Reverend Joe Lowery. The hearing will take place January 15, 2009, at 2 p.m. in Courtroom 16 of the E. Barrett Prettyman United States Courthouse, 333 Constitution Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20001.
“The fact that the legal authorities of all the states would react in so swift and strong a manner proves just how foundational our lawsuit is,” declared Robert Ritter, staff attorney for the Appignani Humanist Legal Center of the American Humanist Association and co-counsel in the case. “They are clearly worried that if we succeed their own gubernatorial inaugural ceremonies will have to become secular as well. And they are right to expect this, just as we will be right to demand it.”
The complaint was filed by Michael Newdow–famous for litigation on the Pledge of Allegiance–the American Humanist Association, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Atheist Alliance International and others. It addresses constitutional concerns regarding the intended use of the phrase “so help me God” in the swearing-in ceremony and sectarian prayer in the invocation and benediction.
“There are two blatant errors in the attorney generals’ friend of the court brief,” Ritter went on to say. “First, it claims that George Washington added ‘so help me God’ to the presidential oath of office at his own inauguration. There is simply no evidence for that.”
Experts at the Library of Congress, the U.S. Senate Historical Office, and Mount Vernon recently went on record as stating that the first recorded instance of those words being added to the oath was by President Chester A. Arthur in 1881.
“Second, the brief cites the strongly religious nature of the Ten Commandments monument in the 2005 Van Orden case—despite the fact that it was the supposed secular nature of this monument, due to its proximity to other secular monuments, that was cited in order to win the case. Clearly, every small insertion of religion into secular government can later be used as a wedge to insert more religion. And that’s exactly why we launched our lawsuit in the first place. We wish to thank the attorneys general for helping us make our point.”
The full text of the friend of the court brief is available online at:
The original State of Texas press release announcing this is at:
The full text of the original complaint, the motion for preliminary injunction, and the court order for the hearing are all at:
Previous AHA press releases announcing the litigation and court order are at:
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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.