Atlantis Alumni

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Keep Prayer And Preachers Out Of Inauguration

From the Capitol Times, Madison, WI:

Freedom From Religion Foundation sues over prayer at inauguration
Samara Kalk Derby — 12/30/2008 5:52 am

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is suing to stop prayer from being part of the Jan. 20 presidential inauguration.

The Madison-based foundation, its co-presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor and several of its members are among the 29 co-plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit, Newdow vs. Roberts, filed Monday by attorney Michael Newdow in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The suit seeks to stop the Presidential Inaugural Committee from sponsoring prayers at the official inauguration.

The 34-page legal complaint said for most of the country's history, clergy has not led prayers at inaugurations.

Similarly, the lawsuit seeks to stop U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts from using the religious phrase, "so help me God," in the presidential oath of office.

Roberts is among the defendants, along with inaugural committee officials -- such as chairperson Sen. Dianne Feinstein -- and Revs. Rick Warren and Joseph Lowery, who have been invited to deliver the invocation and benediction.

"Interlarding those ceremonies with clergy who espouse sectarian religious dogma does not unite, but rather divides, our citizenry," Newdow's complaint reads. "Similarly, instead of instilling confidence in our governmental structure, it tears at the very foundation upon which that structure is built."

This is Newdow's third lawsuit over the issue, so Gaylor said she is not holding her breath about getting the court to agree in time for the inauguration.

"But even if we don't get the injunction, it is also asking to have a judge declare this practice unconstitutional," Gaylor said. "The lawsuit could continue after the inauguration. We think we should win. Whether we will win in today's current climate, I don't know."
Of the nation's 57 public presidential inaugurations, Newdow pointed out, 39 were devoid of clergy-led prayers and only 18, spanning the last 72 years, have included them.

The notion that "so help me God" was added to the presidential oath by George Washington is a myth, Newdow said. Not until 1881 can the first use of "so help me God" as an addition to the presidential oath be traced. The phrase was apparently used only intermittently until 1933, according to the complaint. That unauthorized alteration has been used by the Chief Justice since then.

The complaint points out that the Bible that is traditionally used in the inauguration, not only calls atheists fools, but says atheists as blasphemers should be put to death, Gaylor said.
"There is good reason for those of us who are nonreligious to be offended by the Bible, by God being brought up at an official inauguration," she said.

Gaylor takes great joy in naming Rev. Warren in the lawsuit, knowing that he will be served.
"There's been a great deal of concern about the unsuitability of his selection for the invocation and we concur wholeheartedly. But we think it's unsuitable for any clergy to pray at the inauguration," Gaylor said.

"We are First Amendment purists. It's not just that we think he is politically incorrect. It doesn't really matter which clergy you have. They have all been Christian since this became a custom in 1933. And that is exclusionary to those of us who aren't Christian, to those of us who aren't religious," she said.

"We aren't against free speech, but what we are against is religion in government, and we are against the constitution being meddled with," she said.

It was significant that the Founding Fathers chose to put the entire oath of office for the president into the Constitution, Gaylor said, noting that a lot of people don't realize it's in there.
"And yet the first action we see Inauguration Day is to have that Constitution basically violated by a religious oath," she said.

Gaylor said it is fine for the president-elect to have clergy pray over him in a ceremony when he becomes president, but it shouldn't be done publicly. It should be done at a private inaugural event and be privately paid for, she said.

"We think it is very important to keep our nation secular," she said.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national association of atheists and agnostics that has been working since 1978 to keep church and state separate.

No comments: