Michael Newdow’s Inauguration Lawsuit Dismissed March 14, 2009

Michael Newdow’s Inauguration Lawsuit Dismissed

A couple months ago, atheist Michael Newdow filed a lawsuit against prayer being used in Barack Obama‘s Inauguration ceremony.

Specifically, Newdow and the other plaintiffs were against:

  • The addition of “so help me God” to the presidential oath of office (said by Chief Justice John Roberts) which violated the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment.
  • The government-sponsored use of any clergy at all during the inauguration which violated the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment

The lawsuit was temporarily halted by United States District Judge Reggie Walton and the Inauguration went ahead with the prayers as planned.

Now, that lawsuit has come to a more permanent end.

On Thursday, Judge Walton issued an order dismissing the entire case (PDF). It seems to also put a halt to further action by Newdow:

Upon review of the parties’ written submissions, the Court finds that the plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate that an injunction against any or all of the defendants could redress the harm alleged suffered by plaintiffs. The Court also finds that although plaintiff Newdow was not precluded from litigating the issue of whether he has standing to challenge the inclusion of the words “so help me God” as part of the presidential oath of office, he is precluded from relitigating the issue of whether he has standing to challenge the invocation and benediction that were presented at the 2009 Presidential Inauguration based upon his participation in prior litigation, both before this Court and appealed to the United States Appeals Court for the District of Columbia Circuit, and before the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California and appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, resulting in findings that he has no standing to challenge clergy administered prayer at the Presidential Inauguration. Moreover, the Court finds that none of the plaintiffs in this case have standing to challenge the defendants’ actions as pled in the complaint because they have identified no concrete and particularized injury. And, even if the plaintiffs could establish such an injury, they have failed to demonstrate how the harm they allege is redressable by the relief they seek, or that the Court has any legal authority to award the relief requested. Therefore, the Court finds that the plaintiffs lack standing to bring this action and that it must dismiss this case.

That’s not really surprising; while it’s still unconstitutional to bring religion into the public Inauguration ceremony, it’s hard to explain why that prayer is “harming” any atheist. That has been a sticking point on other lawsuits as well.

Newdow is a smart guy, though. He’ll find a way to bring this up again in the future, even if he’s not the public face of the lawsuit.

He’s already thinking of the next step. In an email to his supporters (reprinted on his Forum), he writes:

Okay — it’s time to celebrate. We lost, nice and quickly.

It may sound disingenuous, but I have always advocated for losing in the District Court if possible. Basically — except for findings of fact (which rarely exist in constitutional cases such as this) – it is advantageous to lose. As the loser, you are the Appellant in the next round. That allows you to frame the issues, since you go first during the briefing. The Appellant starts with a maximum 14,000 word Opening Brief. The “winners” then have a 14,000 word limit to respond with their Respondent Briefs. Then the loser gets to speak last, with a 7,000 word Reply Brief.

During the oral argument, the advantage persists. The Appellant goes first, and then can reserve time for rebuttal, so that ree goes last as well.

So pop the Champagne, and get ready for the round that really counts. Of course, we may lose again there, in which case the litigation will essentially be over (since the Supreme Court will never accept the case for certiorari if we lose in the Court of Appeals). But we have a very strong case, with that little detail called the Constitution of the United States on our side. So, in my opinion, at least, we’re in good shape.

I don’t think anything will happen from this, but I’m glad Newdow is fighting the good fight. In principle, he’s absolutely right. If atheists don’t challenge the use of religion in the public sphere — through lawsuits or through other means — the issue won’t get addressed at all.

(via Atheism Examiner)

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Christopher

    I am a firm believer in the separation of church and state.

    I’m struggling though, with this particular suit. If President Obama wished to have that line included based on his personal faith, is it really unconstitutional?

    I guess what I’m getting at is, if President Obama chose to leave “so help me God” out, despite the obvious political fallout, would he have been allowed to do so? If it is the oath-taker’s option, then I don’t believe it violates the separation of church and state. If the law requires the addition of “so help me God”, then it seems to me that it would.

  • Miko

    Christopher: The text of the oath as given in the Constitution doesn’t include the phrase, so Obama definitely could have opted to leave it out. What the president says after completing the oath or affirmation wouldn’t seem to be a Constitutional issue in my view, so I agree that this lawsuit was fairly silly. For some history, Washington and several presidents following him kissed the Bible they swore an oath on immediately after and Eisenhower gave a prayer immediately after his oath (as well as swearing his oath on two Bibles). Pierce is the only president known to have chosen the affirmation rather than the oath. And John Quincy Adams gets props for swearing his oath on a law book rather than on a Bible.

    But all in all, if adding a SHMG at the end is the worst thing a president does, we should all count ourselves lucky.

  • I feel like I’m finally ‘getting it’. I would have thought this kind of lawsuit was frivolous or useless even 5 years ago, but as I see the strangle-hold that religion has on our nation, and the reactions I get from the religious (just move if you don’t like it), I’m starting to see why it’s absolutely necessary.

  • Quentin

    The way I understood it, the point wasn’t to prevent Obama from adding SHMG at the end of his oath if that’s what he wants to do, the point was that Justice Roberts, acting in an official government capacity, is not authorized to add any additional personal statements to the official oath.

  • Christopher

    Ah, Quentin, I do see the difference, and that makes sense.

  • Friends of Mike Newdow

    Mike plans to appeal the decision.

    And, I’m glad more people understand that the suit is against Roberts corrupting the oath as specified in the Constitution, not against the oath taker adding his/her own comments to the end of the oath. Roberts needs to stick to the script.

  • James Koran

    I see a difference between the public sphere and public square. The first amendment protects the religious and non-religious in the public sphere of ideas, however, the public square should remain neutral.

  • Brooks

    And, even if the plaintiffs could establish such an injury, they have failed to demonstrate how the harm they allege is redressable by the relief they seek, or that the Court has any legal authority to award the relief requested.

    That’s ridiculous. What about all the people in the gay community who were offended by Obama’s choice of using Rick Warren in a prayer? That whole mess could have easily been avoided if the fundies could have just gone one minute of their lives without something religious-related in politics

  • Too bad we can’t get a group of Satanists to demand prayers to Satan be included. If one deity can be prayed to then all must, you see. That should get prayer and religion ousted faster than our requests to do so….

    (There’s nothing the powers that be detest more than sharing the limelight, and the idea of prayers to Satan would scare the pants off them.)

  • Brooks

    Aren’t Christians supposed to pray in the closet and not out in the open to be seen by men like the Pharisees anyway?

  • Anonymous

    I was going to make the most of my life; but then this absolutely necessary lawsuit failed and can never be brought again. Who would ever think of bringing children into the world when the powers that be turn a blind eye to such grave injustices! Is it a sign Nazi fascism is making a comeback?

    Gimme a freakin break!

  • Mark

    It is clear that the separation of church and state, which is in no federal documents from our Founding Fathers, but rather a concern from the Danbury Baptist Association in a letter to Thomas Jefferson, in which the concern was raised as to the state establishing a religion, as done in England (i.e. The Church of England).

    Therefore, the court has misinterpreted the motive by Mr. Jefferson. We agree, the state should not establish a religion, (i.e., the Church of the United States of America), but tradition and federal documents show that God Himself was purposefully included in the foundation of our country, and is even to be thanked, as Abraham Lincoln stated in the Thanksgiving Day Proclamation of 1863.

    Our history loudly proclaims a government which acknowledge the Sovereign Creator. On March 6, 1799, John Adams (for those who wish they were their to sue John Adams during this day, stated in his call for a “National Fast Day”, “..that they call in mind our numerous offenses against the most high God, confess them before Him with the sincerest penitence, implore his pardoning mercy, through the Great Mediator and Redeemer, for our past transgressions, and that through the grace of His Holy Spirit, we may be disposed and enabled to yield a more suitable obedience to his righteous requisitions in time to come;”

    Atheists are destroying America, and have rejected the past to build a destructive “utopia”, that because of the sin of men, will never be accomplished. Our society reflects greatly of this tragedy. America is waxing worse. Even so, come Lord Jesus.

  • Anonymous

    This country was founded on the right to practice freedom of religion, where you want to live and who you want to be. No one makes you not do these things. If there were not freedom you could not be an atheist, budda, satan worshiper ect. Of course as a christian I would try to convince you my way was the right way, but I dont make you pray or worship with me. I have a choice. So do you. Dont take my rights away so you can have your be the best. If you change what this country was founded on then you will no longer have freedom. Then what will you do if your way is the only way. Life as we know it will no longer exsist. Freedom! Its the only way. God Bless America and all its wonderful mixed up people.

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