Newdow’s Bids to Block Inaugural Prayer Rejected

Two Supreme Court Justices on Wednesday rejected atheist Michael Newdow’s bid to bar the recitation of prayers at President Bush’s inaugural ceremonies.

Without comment, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist refused to hear Newdow’s emergency appeal from a lower court, which also turned down his request. Newdow, who argued that clergy-led prayers at inaugural ceremonies violated the U.S. Constitution’s first amendment ban on government establishment of religion, lost twice in both the district court and the appeals court; the emergency appeal was his last available card.

Following Rehnquist’s rejection of the case, Newdow immediately re-filed his appeal to Justice John Paul Stevens, next highest member of the court. However, Stevens also turned down the appeal.

The two rulings mean prayer ceremonies will proceed as planned during the January 20 celebrations; inaugural prayers have been a tradition that has been carried down since the first president George Washington came to office.

Jay Sekulow, Chief Counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, which filed amicus briefs against Newdow in two lower court cases, said the ruling presents an important case in upholding the traditions of our nation.

“This is an important statement by the Supreme Court in upholding inaugural prayer – a time-honored tradition that’s been a part of the history and heritage of our nation,” said Sekulow. “There simply is no constitutional conflict by permitting a member of the clergy to offer prayer for the president and the nation at the inaugural ceremony. We’re pleased that this issue has been resolved and look forward to an inaugural ceremony that includes prayer – a part of the tapestry of every inauguration since President Washington took his first oath of office in 1789.”

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, also praised Rehnquist's decision.

"Mr. Newdow continues to be the mosquito of American public life," Land told Baptist Press. "Like a mosquito, he’s not truly threatening, but he does irritate and exasperate. This was a silly suit by a person representing the farthest left margins of American society, and Chief Justice Rehnquist made a wise, prudent and expected decision."