Humanists Decry Dismissal of Inaugural Prayer Case
(Washington, DC, May 7, 2010) The American Humanist Association expressed disappointment today that the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed dismissal of a case challenging the infusion of religion into presidential inaugural ceremonies. A three-judge panel of the court unanimously held that the challenge to the 2009 presidential inaugural was moot because Newdow and the other plaintiffs did not appeal the District Court’s denial of a preliminary injunction and that the court did not have the power to redress the claims for future inaugural ceremonies because it did not know who the defendants would be.
“I disagree with the Court of Appeals decision today and continue to firmly believe that the religious practices of presidential inaugural ceremonies run afoul of the First Amendment,” said Bob Ritter, staff attorney of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, the legal arm of the American Humanist Association, and co-counsel with Newdow.
The case, Newdow v. Roberts, challenged the oath administrator’s addition of the phrase “so help me God” to the constitutionally prescribed presidential oath and the inclusion of sectarian prayers in the invocation and benediction of the 2009 inauguration of President Obama and the 2013 and 2017 ceremonies. U.S. District Court Judge Reggie B. Walton ruled that all plaintiffs lacked standing to pursue such cases. However, the plaintiffs appealed, arguing that, according to Supreme Court precedent, the “unwelcome exposure” suffered by the plaintiffs constituted grounds for standing.
“Mike Newdow and I believe that the courts have the judicial power to declare these acts unconstitutional and enjoin such practices from occurring at future ceremonies,” said Ritter.
Although legal standing of the plaintiffs was the only issue involved in the appeal, at the heart of this case is whether the religious practices in presidential inaugural ceremonies are more like school-led or encouraged prayers at high school graduation ceremonies, which are not permissible (under Lee v. Weisman (1992)), as the plaintiffs argued, or are more like legislative prayers, which are generally permissible (under Marsh v. Chambers (1983)), as the Department of Justice argued.
“The court today took the side of religious political conservatives who excuse governmental endorsements of Christianity as ‘simply a tolerable acknowledgment of beliefs widely held among the people of this country,’” said Ritter. “In reality, these practices are hostile to tens of millions of nontheists by disparaging their beliefs and casting them as outsiders.”
The American Humanist Association (www.americanhumanist.org) advocates for the rights and viewpoints of humanists. Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., its work is extended through more than 100 local chapters and affiliates across America.
Humanism is the idea that you can be good without a belief in God.