- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 8, 2005

The California lawyer who tried to have the phrase “under God” removed from the Pledge of Allegiance now wants to legally prevent President Bush from placing his hand on a Bible while being sworn in at his inauguration.

Michael Newdow, an atheist doctor and lawyer from Sacramento, has filed a complaint and a motion for preliminary injunction in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, seeking to remove prayer and all “Christian religious acts” from the Jan. 20 inauguration.

Mr. Newdow, 50, asserts that the presence of Christian ministers who pray publicly at the inauguration, Christian songs and the swearing of the oath of office while a president places a hand on the Bible violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

Such practices turn people “into second-class citizens and create division on the basis of religion,” he said yesterday.

“It is an offense of the highest magnitude that the leader of our nation — while swearing to uphold the Constitution — publicly violates that very document upon taking his oath of office,” Mr. Newdow wrote in his Dec. 17 filing. “The demands of strict scrutiny have not been met, and defendants must be enjoined from their planned religious activities.”

The Constitution does not require the new president to place his hand on a Bible while repeating the oath. The tradition has been kept since George Washington — with the exception of Theodore Roosevelt, who did not use a Bible when he took the oath after President William McKinley’s 1901 assassination.

The Revs. Franklin Graham and Kirbyjon Caldwell delivered Christian invocations at President Bush’s 2001 inauguration. Inaugural organizers have yet to announce who will pray this year, but they confirmed there will be an invocation and a benediction by ministers chosen by the president.

The White House and the Presidential Inaugural Committee, which is one of three inaugural organizational bodies, declined to comment on Mr. Newdow’s actions but a response to his filing was due yesterday.

A hearing in the case is scheduled for Thursday, Mr. Newdow said.

Mr. Newdow’s efforts are “part of a march toward removing every vestige of religion from American public life,” said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, a D.C.-based public interest law firm.

“There is a progressive move toward secularism that we’ve got to combat pretty aggressively,” he said.

The center is filing an amicus brief in support of the defendants in this case..

The legal debate centers on two Supreme Court cases — Marsh v. Chambers in 1983 and Lee v. Weisman in 1992.

The argument in favor of prayer at the inauguration is based on the establishment of chaplains in Congress at its inception, before the Bill of Rights was passed prohibiting any “law respecting an establishment of religion.”

When the presence of chaplains in the Nebraska state legislature was legally challenged in 1983 by Ernest Chambers, a Nebraska lawmaker, the Supreme Court ruled against him, saying the practice had a “special nook” because it was a long-standing practice to have government-paid chaplains.

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