Judge allows inauguration prayer

/ Source: The Associated Press

An atheist who tried to remove “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance lost a bid Friday to bar the saying of a Christian prayer at President Bush’s inauguration.

U.S. District Judge John Bates said Michael Newdow’s claim should be denied because he already had filed and lost a similar lawsuit in a federal appeals court in California last year.

Bates also said Newdow had no legal standing to pursue his claim. Even if Newdow could show he had suffered injury because he was offended in hearing the prayer, Bates said the court did not have authority to stop the president from inviting clergy to give a religious prayer at the ceremony.

In a telephone interview from his home in Sacramento, Newdow said Bates had written a thoughtful opinion “but he came to the wrong conclusion.” He said he planned to appeal.

Bates wrote, “The court’s grave concerns about its power to issue an injunction against the president, which is the only method of redressing Newdow’s alleged injuries, places in peril Newdow’s standing to bring this action.”

Even if he were to rule on the merits of Newdow’s claims, Bates said, Newdow was unlikely to prevail. The judge relied heavily on a 1983 Supreme Court ruling that prayers at opening sessions of legislatures and other public bodies do not violate the separation of church and state.

Newdow argued that saying a Christian prayer at the Jan. 20 ceremony would violate the Constitution by forcing him to accept unwanted religious beliefs.

Long history
Attorneys representing Bush and his inaugural committee 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 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, which ruled that public schools violated the separation of church and state by having students mention God.

The Supreme Court later threw out the ruling, saying Newdow could not lawfully sue because he did not have custody of his elementary school-age daughter, on whose behalf he sued. Newdow refiled the pledge suit in Sacramento federal court this month, naming eight other parents and children.

Newdow is both an emergency room physician and a lawyer and has represented himself in both legal actions.