Reverend Michael Newdow, an atheist and inexplicably a minister (isn't that an oxymoron?) of the church of First Atheist Church of True Science (FACTS), wants church and state separated. He's the one who sued over the Pledge of Allegiance but lost.
So, to stop Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts from prompting President-elect Barack Obama with the words, "So help me God" at the end of his Oath of Office, Rev. Newdow sued.
Here's a few paragraphs from his Complaint [footnotes omitted] so you can have the full context:
64. Yet despite all of the foregoing [a treatise on the separation of church and state and Supreme Court pronouncements], Defendant Roberts - who, as Chief Justice of the United States, embodies the rule of law and the devotion of our government to the United States Constitution more than any other individual - will (with no authority whatsoever) alter the text of that document to infuse the inaugural ceremony with purely religious dogma.
64. Furthermore, the remaining Defendants will bring to the inauguration of the President - the grandest ceremony in our national existence - two chaplains to extol the glory of God. This is the case even though the Supreme Court has specifically pronounced that 'the religious liberty protected by the Constitution is abridged when the State affirmatively sponsors the particular religious practice of prayer.' "
The Complaint continues:
"83. Under the Establishment Clause, Plaintiffs have a right to view their government in action without being forced to confront official endorsements of religious dogma with which they disagree. This is especially the case when that dogma stigmatizes them in the process.
84. Being forced to confront such religious dogma as the price to pay for observing a governmental ceremony is a substantial burden upon Plaintiffs' rights of Free Exercise as well. One cannot freely live as an adherent to a religious ideology when the government uses its 'power, prestige and financial support' to impose a contrary religious doctrine while such individuals are observing its ceremonies."
So, Rev. Newdow wants Chief Justice Roberts to follow the Constitution:
"101. The oath of office for the President of the United States is specified in the Constitution's Article II, Section 1. In its entirety, it reads: 'I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.'
102. It is to be noted that the words, 'so help me God' are not included in this oath.
103. That 'so help me God' was added to the presidential oath by George Washington is a myth. There is no contemporaneous account supporting this claim, which was first made in 1854, apparently on the basis of a recollection of Washington Irving. Irving was six years old in 1789, when the first inaugural was held. A historical claim based upon nothing but the alleged recollection of a six year old, first made more than six decades later, is of highly questionable validity. Combined with the fact that Irving's report of where he was standing during the inauguration would have made it impossible for him to have heard the oath at all, that validity falls to zero."
Well, there you have it. As a remedy, Rev. Newdow wants an injunction and a declaration preventing the use of these four offensive words:
"Prayer for Relief [No, I am not kidding. That's what his Complaint says] III. To enjoin Defendant Roberts, in his official capacity and in his individual capacity, from altering the constitutionally-prescribed text of the presidential oath of office while administering that oath to the President-elect at the January 20, 2009 inauguration, as well as at any future presidential inauguration;"
The case was filed in the District of Columbia late last year, and is progressing along. Justice Roberts has been served with a copy of the Complaint (since he is a party) and he was "quite the gentleman" when the process server arrived to serve the Summons and Complaint at his home. While the case is percolating along, the script is up in the air. If you want to see more on this topic, plus the appendices to Newdow's Complaint, click here.
The President's Inaugural Committee filed Answers (along with others) and filed this Opposition to the Motion for an Injunction. Essentially, the Opposition and the Answers challenge the Motion on the basis that Newdow doesn't have standing.
The matter is pending before the DC federal court. Newdow has lost these arguments before, and likely will again. The D.C. federal district court has not yet issued a ruling, but when they do, it will be posted here on their website.
How do you vote?