Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Newdow Lawsuit Challenges Inaugural Oath and Invocation [UPDATED]

A press release from the American Humanist Association reports that a lawsuit was filed on Dec. 30 in Washington, D.C. federal district court challenging two elements of the upcoming inauguration ceremony planned for Barack Obama. The complaint (full text and links to Appendices) in Newdow v. Roberts, (D DC, filed 12/29/2008) asks the court to enjoin the Chief Justice-- who will administer the oath of office-- from adding "so help me God" to the constitutionally prescribed presidential oath (Art. II, Sec. 1). It also asks the court to declare unconstitutional the use of clergy to deliver an invocation and benediction. Plaintiffs allege that both of these practices violate the Establishment Clause, Free Exercise Clause and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. In addition to the Chief Justice, defendants include the Presidential Inaugural Committee and its leaders, and the clergy scheduled to take part in the ceremony. Some 40 individuals and organizations-- atheist and secular humanist in belief-- are named as plaintiffs. On the crucial issue of standing, the complaint alleges:

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.

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.

The Examiner carries a posting commenting on the filing. Volokh Conspiracy has extensive commentary on the lawsuit.