updated 1/19/2005 2:44:06 PM ET 2005-01-19T19:44:06

An atheist lost a bid Wednesday to have the Supreme Court bar the saying of a prayer at President Bush’s inauguration, but he quickly filed an appeal.

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Chief Justice William Rehnquist denied Michael Newdow’s claim that a prayer at Thursday’s ceremony would violate the Constitution by forcing him to accept unwanted religious beliefs.

After that denial, Newdow filed a new appeal with Justice John Paul Stevens. Under court rules, Stevens may act on the request or refer the matter to the full court for consideration.

Earlier Wednesday, Rehnquist also rejected Newdow’s request to recuse himself from the case because he is scheduled to swear in Bush. Newdow had argued that Rehnquist had become a willing fixture in a government ceremony “infused with sectarian Christian religion” and thus had a conflict of interest.

Rehnquist’s order came without comment.

Two lower courts had rejected Newdow’s request to ban the prayer, suggesting he couldn’t show actual injury in hearing it. In his ruling last week, U.S. District Judge John Bates also said the court did not have authority to stop the president from inviting clergy to give a religious prayer at the ceremony.

Attorneys representing Bush and his inaugural committee had argued that prayers have been widely accepted at inaugurals for more than 200 years and that Bush’s decision to have a minister recite the invocation was a personal choice the court had no power to prevent.

Newdow gained widespread publicity two years ago after winning his pledge case before the San-Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that public schools violated the separation of church and state by having students mention God.

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