Judge Rejects Bid to Bar Inaugural Prayer

A federal district judge rejected yesterday atheist Michael Newdow's bid to bar clergy prayer from being recited at next Thursday's Presidential inauguration.

Newdow, who unsuccessfully tried to remove "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance, argued that allowing a Christian minister to give prayer at the Jan. 20 ceremony would constitute a governmental endorsement of religion and thereby violating his constitutional rights.

"The president of the United States, as he takes his oath of office to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, is violating the Constitution," said Newdow, arguing his case over the phone with the court on Thursday.

But in a decision issued late Friday, U.S. District Judge John Bates threw out Newdow's arguments saying, “there is a strong argument, that at this late date, the public interest would best be served by allowing the 2005 Inauguration ceremony to proceed on January 20 as planned.”

“That would be consistent with the inclusion of clergy prayer in all Presidential inaugurations since 1937, and with the inclusion of religious prayer or reference in every inauguration commencing with the first inauguration of President Washington in 1789," he continued.

Bates added that granting Newdow's request for a preliminary injunction to bar prayer from the event at the eleventh hour would "cause considerable disruption in a significant, carefully-planned, national event, requiring programming and other adjustments.

"The material change requested by Newdow in an accepted and well-established historical pattern of short prayers or religious references during Presidential inaugurations, based on this last-minute challenge, is not likely to serve the public interest, particularly where Newdow’s ability to proceed with this action remains in doubt and there is no clear evidence of impermissible sectarian proselytizing.”

In the 50-page ruling, Bates agreed with the President's attorneys that even if the self-represented lawyer had been able to show he suffered serious injury, that Newdow would not have the legal standing to stop President George W. Bush from inviting clergy to pray at his inauguration.

Newdow said he was not surprised by the judge's ruling and had expected Bates to rule as he did, reported the Sacramento Bee. He had lost a similar case in 2002. Newdow has promised to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit seeking emergency relief, according to American Center for Law and Justice, a Washtington D.C.-based Christian legal group that filed an amicus brief in support of the Justice of Department in the challenge.

“We’re pleased that the court made the appropriate determination in rejecting Newdow’s argument and clearing the way for prayer to be offered at the Presidential inauguration continuing a time-honored tradition,” said ACLJ's Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow. “Michael Newdow apparently will continue his legal quest to remove prayer from the ceremony, but we are confident this flawed legal challenge will fail in the appeals process," said Sekulow.

The ACLJ said Friday it is preparing legal briefs to submit in the inaugural prayer suit at the appellate level and also plans to file briefs in Newdow's fresh suit against the Pledge.

After hearing Bates' decision, Vice-President of Legislative Affairs of Christian Coalition of America, Jim Backlin said, "Thank God there are still federal judges -- including the Supreme Court Justices who threw out Mr. Newdow's Pledge of Allegiance lawsuit last year -- who reject the goals of a tiny vocal minority trying to impose their anti-God prejudices on more than 80 percent of Americans who hold traditional values and want God to remain in the public square."

Another Christian legal group, the Alliance Defense Fund, also commended Bates' ruling.

“The court has protected President Bush from faith-based discrimination in the workplace,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jordan Lorence. “Prayer and religious activities at government events like the Inauguration stretch back to George Washington and before the adoption of the First Amendment. The court was right to reject Newdow’s claims, even if only on technical grounds.”

As of Saturday, the Presidential Inauguration ceremony is set to take place at noon on Jan. 20.