The complaint, filed by the American Humanist Association, Freedom From
Religion Foundation, Atheist Alliance International, and others, addresses
constitutional concerns regarding the intended use of the phrase "so help me God" in the swearing-in ceremony and sectarian prayer in the invocation and benediction. Included as defendants in the suit are Chief Justice John Roberts, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Major General Richard J. Rowe Jr., the
Reverend Rick Warren and the Reverend Joe Lowery.
"The use of sectarian prayer and religious phrases during the inauguration
not only violates a clear reading of the First Amendment, it serves as a
justification for the breach of church-state separation in other areas,"
said Bob Ritter, staff attorney for the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, the
legal arm of the American Humanist Association. "This is a foundational
suit--to challenge the origination of many Establishment Clause and Free
Exercise Clause violations."
In the complaint, which levels six counts against inauguration plans, the
plaintiffs declare their belief that Chief Justice Roberts will "infuse the
inaugural ceremony with purely religious dogma" in the form of the words "so help me God" added to the secular language of the presidential oath spelled out in the constitution. The plaintiffs further argue that anticipated use of the Bible in the inauguration suggests government endorsement of the specifically anti-atheist pronouncements written therein. Further, the plaintiffs charge that the government will violate the Establishment Clause
when it uses inaugural prayers of a clearly religious nature. And they
charge that the government will violate the Free Exercise rights of
nontheists and others when it requires them "to confront official
endorsements of religious dogma with which they disagree" as "the price to
pay for observing a governmental ceremony," one that is "the grandest
ceremony in our national existence."
launched concerning sectarian prayer on Inauguration Day, Roy Speckhardt,
executive director of the American Humanist Association, noted that "Those
suits were thrown out due to issues of standing. But we're confident in the
current suit, involving multiple plaintiffs, that our standing is sound. We
therefore expect this case to move forward."
The suit was filed today at the U.S. District Court in Washington, DC, and
calls upon the court to decide the matter before the January 20, 2009,
inauguration ceremonies. The full text of the complaint is available online.
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The American Humanist Association (www.americanhumanist.org) advocates for the rights and viewpoints of humanists. Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., its work is extended through more than 100 local chapters and affiliates across America.
Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism, affirms
our responsibility to lead ethical lives of value to self and humanity.