Atheists/Humanists Appeal Presidential Oath and Prayer

Washington, D.C. – The case challenging the use of the phrase, “so help me God” and the invocation and benediction at the inauguration of President Obama has been appealed to the federal District Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Last month, U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton dismissed the case based on a lack of injury and a failure to demonstrate that the matter is redressable by the courts. Michael Newdow, the lead plaintiff and attorney in the case, is challenging those findings in the appellate court. Dr. Newdow is joined by 254 other inpidually named plaintiffs and nineteen organizations including, the American Humanist Association, Freedom from Religion Foundation, and Atheist Alliance International.

The Pacific Justice Institute is representing Rev. Rick Warren and Rev. Joe Lowery, two prominent pastors who were named as inpidual defendants for their part in providing the invocation and benediction at the inauguration. “The President has the right to look for spiritual inspiration for himself and the nation by selecting ministers to pray at important events such as the inaugural ceremony,” stated Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute. “Pacific Justice Institute will continue to fight for the rights of elected officials to engage in this time-honored tradition and we will also fight for ministers who accept the invitation to ask God’s help and blessing on those elected and on our nation and communities,” Dacus vowed.

Attorney Kevin Snider of the Pacific Justice Institute will continue to serve as counsel representing Drs. Lowery and Warren through the appellate process. Snider argued before Judge Walton in January when the District Court declined to prevent the prayers or the use of “so help me God” in the oath. The lead defendant, Chief Justice John Roberts, as well as the other federal defendants, are represented by the U.S. Attorney General’s Office on the issue of the use of “so help me God” in the oath. The Presidential Inaugural Committee, a nonprofit organization and also a defendant, has retained the Washington D.C. firm of Hogan & Hartson LLP.