Michael Newdow’s Latest Case Rejected by Supreme Court May 19, 2011

Michael Newdow’s Latest Case Rejected by Supreme Court

Atheist Michael Newdow sued to keep Barack Obama from saying the phrase “So Help Me God” during his Inauguration… and lost. He appealed… and lost again (they said he “lacked standing” (PDF)).

Finally, he took his case to the Supreme Court. Earlier this week, they rejected hearing his case.

The high court on Monday refused to hear an appeal from Michael Newdow, who argued that government references to God are unconstitutional and infringe on his religious beliefs.

Can he do anything now? It doesn’t look like it. And he’s not very happy about that prospect.

I asked Newdow what his options were now that the Court has said no to hearing his case, and he responded with this via email:

…The DC Circuit ruled that there is no standing to challenge executive branch activity. Although I am certain that that extraordinary claim (which is contrary to Supreme Court case law since 1803 (in Marbury v. Madison)) will be disregarded in other situations, it clearly will be adhered to in any future [“So Help Me God”] challenge.

At “the transcendent ritual of American democracy and respresentative government,” therefore, the Chief Justice of the United States (of all people) will continue to alter the text of the Constitution every four years. (S)He will do this with no authority, in a manner that at the very least implicates (if not grossly violates) the principle of religious equality found in the first ten words of the Bill of Rights.

Score one less for our nation.

You have to hand it to Newdow — he doesn’t always file the most popular cases (even in the atheist world), but he always files the big ones. When it comes to Religious Privilege in our government, if the door is open a crack, Newdow will try to bust it open. He doesn’t always succeed, but if he can’t, I’m not sure anyone else can either. So I’m glad that he’s doing what so many of us can’t even imagine — taking on the government in a fight to maintain church/state separation.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Chas

    I didn’t mind that Obama said “So Help Me God” during his Inauguration. The new president is welcome to add that at the end. What bothered me was that if I recall properly the Chief Justice prompted him with that phrase even though it is not part of the oath of office.

  • Danielle

    The military has a similar thing. When I swore in, they gave me the option to say, “So help me god.”

    I obviously didn’t say it.

  • Susan Robinson

    The case was not about Obama saying the words “so help me god.” It was about the government representative administering the oath directing the person taking the oath to say those words.
    I was one of the plaintiffs in the case.

  • It bothers me.

    The president takes an oath to protect and serve a country full of believers and non-believers alike.

    Not only is it disrespectful to disregard the lack of belief by some, but what about religions that don’t refer to their deity/subject of worship as ‘God’ (i.e. nature-based religions et cetera)?

    The statement “so help me God” doesn’t encompass all religions represented in the United States- and even if it did, it still violates the constitutional right to freedom from religion.

  • atheist rising

    Very depressing thing. There is no point even trying to change these laws atheists will always lose.

  • Steve

    Did he have a choice to decline that part? If they talk before and decide on whether or not to say “so help me god”, there is no issue. It only becomes one if the oath taker is forced to say it.

  • Transplant

    IF he had refused to say it, the impeachment hearings would have started that afternoon. That’s the truly sad part.

  • What I think is lost on many of Newdow’s atheist critics is that even if he loses his case, he’s still imposing a cost on those who would try to insert religion into government and is therefore, IMO, doing a service to the atheist movement at large. With people like Newdow and organizations like FFRF keeping up the legal pressure, government figures must really weigh the costs and benefits of inviting litigation with Establishment Clause violations.

  • I have a friend who travelled round North America a few years ago singing in clubs and bars to fund her trip. She said that the best way to rouse the crowd to get them to tip more was to end the set with a loud and exuberant “God Bless America”. The rednecks lapped it up even if she didn’t believe a word of it. It was expected and it worked to con encourage more money from people.

    Obama is a politician. He has to say “So help me God” in order to please his voters. He should have the right to say it too as long as it doesn’t become part of the official oath or ceremony.

    One day, maybe fifty or a hundred years from now, Americans might be embarrassed by such over the top displays of religiosity. At that time invoking god or using prayer to sell more votes will fall out of fashion until even mentioning that you are a religious politician will be a point of mild amusement or even or outright scorn from the electorate. I do not believe that it is appropriate to turn to the courts to fight this battle. It won’t change minds.

  • I can’t disagree with the Supreme Court on this.

    Obama is binding himself into this “contract” with a mechanism that is important to him – which in fact, if he is a Christian, should be the strongest bind there is – i.e. an oath before God.

    If he gave a financial bond, we wouldn’t object to him using his money to do it – in fact, we would expect it.

    If he was an atheist then there would be a problem – and then he would also have standing.

  • Jena

    I was away from the internet for a few days so I’m late to this party, but I agree with the last two comments. For now, with someone who says he is Christian, it’s not my business because it’s HIS oath. When our country progresses far enough to elect an actual Muslim who wishes to swear, “so help me Allah” or any non-Christian who doesn’t want to swear by a religious figure at all, then it will matter. But once we get to that point, hopefully it will be a non-issue anyway!

  • decline to State

    Obama’s postion is a job. He holds an office, he must uphold the law which is separation of church and State. Your comment “…a mechanism that is important to him” may be Obama’s personal preference and not granted by virtue of winning an election. Therefore, he himself just as guilty as the chief justice.

  • decline to State

    Obama’s postion is a job. He holds an office, he must uphold the law which is separation of church and State.Therefore, he is just as guilty as the chief justice.

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