January 8, 2005


Atheist sues to prevent prayer at Bush inauguration (The Associated Press, January 6, 2005)

An atheist who sued because he did not want his young daughter exposed to the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance is now filing a suit to bar the saying of a prayer at President Bush's inauguration.

Michael Newdow, of Sacramento, notes that two ministers, the Reverend Franklin Graham and the Reverend Kirbyjon Caldwell, delivered Christian invocations at Bush's first inaugural ceremony in 2001.

The Inaugural '05 Web site says, "A minister chosen by the President will deliver an invocation" before Bush takes the oath of office Jan. 20.

Newdow, in a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, says that's unconstitutional and is seeking an expedited hearing of his case, which is tentatively scheduled Jan. 14.

That would certainly be news to George Washington, who initiated the Constitutional regime thus:
Fellow Citizens of the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Among the vicissitudes incident to life, no event could have filled me with greater anxieties than that of which the notification was transmitted by your order, and received on the fourteenth day of the present month. On the one hand, I was summoned by my Country, whose voice I can never hear but with veneration and love, from a retreat which I had chosen with the fondest predilection, and, in my flattering hopes, with an immutable decision, as the asylum of my declining years: a retreat which was rendered every day more necessary as well as more dear to me, by the addition of habit to inclination, and of frequent interruptions in my health to the gradual waste committed on it by time. On the other hand, the magnitude and difficulty of the trust to which the voice of my Country called me, being sufficient to awaken in the wisest and most experienced of her citizens, a distrustful scrutiny into his qualifications, could not but overwhelm with dispondence, one, who, inheriting inferior endowments from nature and unpractised in the duties of civil administration, ought to be peculiarly conscious of his own deficiencies. In this conflict of emotions, all I dare aver, is, that it has been my faithful study to collect my duty from a just appreciation of eve ry circumstance, by which it might be affected. All I dare hope, is, that, if in executing this task I have been too much swayed by a grateful remembrance of former instances, or by an affectionate sensibility to this transcendent proof, of the confidence of my fellow-citizens; and have thence too little consulted my incapacity as well as disinclination for the weighty and untried cares before me; my error will be palliated by the motives which misled me, and its consequences be judged by my Country, with some share of the partiality in which they originated.

Such being the impressions under which I have, in obedience to the public summons, repaired to the present station; it would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official Act, my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the Universe, who presides in the Councils of Nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that his benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the People of the United States, a Government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes: and may enable every instrument employed in its administration to execute with success, the functions allotted to his charge. In tendering this homage to the Great Author of every public and private good I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments not less than my own; nor those of my fellow-citizens at large, less than either. No People can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand, which conducts the Affairs of men more than the People of the United States. Every step, by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation, seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency. And in the important revolution just accomplished in the system of their United Government, the tranquil deliberations and voluntary consent of so many distinct communities, from which the event has resulted, cannot be compared with the means by which most Governments have been established, without some return of pious gratitude along with an humble anticipation of the future blessings which the past seem to presage. These reflections, arising out of the present crisis, have forced themselves too strongly on my mind to be suppressed. You will join with me I trust in thinking, that there are none under the influence of which, the proceedings of a new and free Government can more auspiciously commence.

...as well as to the First Congress:
On September 25, 1789, three days after Congress authorized the appointment of paid chaplains, final agreement was reached on the language of the Bill of Rights., Clearly the men who wrote the First Amendment Religion Clauses did not view paid legislative chaplains and opening prayers as a violation of that Amendment, for the practice of opening sessions with prayer has continued without interruption ever since that early session of Congress.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 8, 2005 10:36 AM

There used to be a concept called 'De minimis non curat lex', the law does not bother with trifles.

The combined actual harm to all of the atheists in the US from all the public invocations of the divine since the inception of the Republic is probably less than the harm to my Corgi the last time he ate an insect while I was walking him.

The proper response of a judge to Newdow and friends should be along the lines of 'Get out of my courtroom before I set the dogs on you!'

Posted by: Bart at January 8, 2005 10:44 AM

Judge Easterbrook of the Seventh Circuit once remarked that he often wished that he had a big red button next to him on the bench so that, when a lawyer made a particularly obtuse argument, he might open a trapdoor under the lawyer's feet, sending the latter down a long, winding chute and depositing him unharmed on Randolph Street 36 stories below.

Most days, I know exactly how he feels.

Posted by: Random Lawyer at January 8, 2005 11:12 AM

Mr. Newdow is the appropriate representative for the radical secularist maovement. Angry, mission-filled, delusional and historically ignorant. The American idea of God-given rights beyond the reach of the state must be unconstitutional in this fellows mind. The fact that a court wastes a moment of its time on this manufactured controversy is offensive.

Posted by: Tom C., Stamford, Ct. at January 8, 2005 11:18 AM

Newdow seems to have come to the conclusion that since Madelyn Murray O'Hair is dead, the position of litigious agnostic-in-chief of the United States of America is now open, and he can become the new leader of the Sue God Out of Existance movement.

O'Hair made her effort into quite a personal cash cow over 35 years, which might also be Mr. Newdow's alterior motive, though considering the way Madelyn and her son ended up, he might want to avoid taking any trips with any of his supporters to rural hill country areas, since if you don't believe in God, those commandment thingies have a little less force of impact on your associates.

Posted by: John at January 8, 2005 11:31 AM

Newdow is just plain tiresome. Then again like O'hair he may become the new standard bearer of the Godless.

I like Bart's last para. It would be refreshing to hear a judge say that.

Posted by: at January 8, 2005 12:30 PM

I believe the correct description of Mr. Newdow is "attention-seeking."

Posted by: Mike Morley at January 8, 2005 12:33 PM

I would love the judge to issue the tro. It would be sweet to see the President defy it.

Posted by: Bob at January 8, 2005 1:39 PM

Even the president is entitled to free speech.

Posted by: David Cohen at January 9, 2005 12:41 AM