(Washington, DC, March 11, 2009) Today marks a new stage in Newdow v. Roberts, the lawsuit filed December 30, 2008, by atheist Michael Newdow and others to stop plans to include prayer and a religious oath at the inauguration of President Barack Obama. Attorneys for the plaintiffs filed an amended complaint overnight in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, adding 230 plaintiffs (including a number of children) to show the court there are many Americans who object to the infusion of religion into inauguration ceremonies. And just before noon today an attorney for the plaintiffs completed the new filing with an unredacted version of an appendix that includes all the names, addesses and declarations of the new plaintiffs. To protect plaintiffs from potential harassment in connection with the controversial case, a motion has been filed to place their addresses under seal.
Although the court didn’t previously restrain the religious observances at Obama’s inauguration, the case continues in a manner that could affect future inaugurations. The amended complaint adds the forthcoming 2013 and 2017 presidential inaugurals to prevent the suit from being dismissed by U.S. District Court Judge Reggie B. Walton because of mootness (the 2009 inaugural having been held on January 20th).
Originally, on December 30th, eleven nontheistic organizations and thirty nontheistic individuals launched the suit. They took aim at the invocation and benediction ceremonies as well as the addition of “so help me God” to the oath of office that is spelled out in the U.S. Constitution. The plaintiffs had further argued that 1) use of the Bible in inaugurations suggests government endorsement of the specifically anti-atheist pronouncements written therein, 2) the government violates the Establishment Clause when it uses inaugural prayers of a clearly religious nature and 3) the government violates the Free Exercise rights of nontheists and others when it requires them “to confront official endorsements of religious dogma with which they disagree” as “the price to pay for observing a governmental ceremony.”
The litigation, handled by the Appignani Humanist Legal Center of the American Humanist Association on behalf of the plaintiffs, includes as defendants Chief Justice John Roberts, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Major General Richard J. Rowe Jr., the Reverend Rick Warren and the Reverend Joe Lowery. (For more background, go online to http://www.humanistlegalcenter.org/cases/Invocation/Invocation.html ).
“The point of this lawsuit, and the addition of plaintiffs, is to ensure that all Americans will one day be able to view the grandest ceremony of our national life without being proselytized by government officials or the religious leaders they select,” said Bob Ritter today, co-counsel in the case and an attorney with the Appignani Humanist Legal Center. “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.”
After the filing of the original complaint back in December, a number of individuals had contacted Newdow and other plaintiffs indicating their wish to have participated in this action. When later informed that an amended complaint would be filed, many asked to be included. The opportunity was also publicized to others of like mind via the Internet.
From the standpoint of the litigants, the additional plaintiffs provide a way to demonstrate the pervasiveness of the sense of second-class citizenship felt by nontheistic Americans (such as atheists and agnostics) when observing what, to many legal theorists, constitutes government sponsored religious ceremonies. This sense of harm is viewed as particularly profound by those who are parents of impressionable children.
David Niose, president of the American Humanist Association, who is also a Massachusetts attorney and a father, said today, “Secular American parents are forced to navigate between, on the one hand, facilitating the sense of awe and pride their children share as their president is inaugurated and, on the other, mitigating the harm done when government speakers send a message that nonbelievers are outsiders in what is supposed to be a unifying civic event.”
Attorneys for the plaintiffs indicate that a number of parents have come forward and expressly stated that infusions of monotheism at the January 20th inauguration harmed their children and those parents’ ability to raise their children with the religious or nonreligious views they choose to instill, without government entering that protected domain.
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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.