The Michael Newdow-led (and several-atheists-followed) fight to stop prayer from being used during Barack Obama‘s Inauguration ceremony came to a temporary halt today when a judge rejected the challenge:
U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton refused to grant an injunction preventing such references in a lawsuit brought by a group of atheists. The atheists had argued that the use of prayer and the words “so help me God” by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. while administering the oath of office violated their Constitutional rights. Walton ruled that he did not have the power to prevent Obama from making such references or inviting ministers on stage to offer prayers.
This isn’t the end of the line for the lawsuit, but it probably means a “winning scenario” won’t have any impact on next week’s ceremony.
Walton said he had difficulty understanding how Newdow and other plaintiffs could say they were harmed by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts administering the oath with the words “so help me God” while supporting Obama’s personal free exercise to say the same phrase.
“I can tell the chief justice what he can do?” Walton asked Newdow.
“The chief justice is not above the law,” responded Newdow, who represented himself and the other plaintiffs.
Newdow will appeal the ruling but adds, “I think it’s going to be futile.”
I’m obviously not a lawyer, but much like Newdow’s attempts to get “Under God” out of the Pledge, I’m not hearing the judges address the underlying issues. They find something else to argue about — standing in the case or whether atheists are truly “harmed” or whether the ruling can actually be enforced — instead of addressing whether religion should be allowed in these public events.
If they judge the cases based on those actual arguments, there’s no reason the atheists should lose.