Federal Judge to Hear Atheist's Attempt to Stop Inauguration Prayers

By Pete Winn | January 6, 2009 | 5:15 PM EST

Rev. Rick Warren flanked by Republican presidential candidate John McCain and President-elect Barack Obama

(CNSNews.com) - Will the Rev. Rick Warren be allowed to give the invocation at the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama? Maybe not, if atheist Michael Newdow gets his way.
A federal judge said Monday that he will hear arguments by Newdow, the American Humanist Association and 38 other atheist groups and individuals out to stop prayers from being said on Jan. 20.
U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton said he found “good cause” to hear Newdow’s case and set a hearing for Jan. 15.
"If we prevail at the Jan. 15 hearing, this inauguration will be secular, as it should be under the Constitution," said Bob Ritter, a staff attorney for the American Humanist Association and co-counsel in the case.
Austin R. Nimocks, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based religious rights law group called the lawsuit “absurd.”
“This is just another example of the repeated attempts of cultural cleansing efforts against Christianity that are happening in our nation,” Nimocks told CNSNews.com.
The atheist plaintiffs, which include the Freedom from Religion Foundation and the Atheist Alliance International, also argue that the use of the phrase "so help me God" in the swearing-in ceremony is as unconstitutional as the opening and closing prayers.
“By placing ‘so help me God’ in its oaths and sponsoring prayers to God, government is lending its power to one side of perhaps the greatest religious controversy: God’s existence or non-existence,” Newdow argues in the suit.
Nimocks dismisses the argument as “absolutely ridiculous.”
“Prayer and the use of religious language to solemnize an inaugural has happened multiple times in our past, and it is completely consistent with our country’s heritage,” Nimocks told CNSNews.com
“I fully expect that, in the end, Pastor Warren is going to be entitled to give the invocation,” Nimocks added.
Warren, an evangelical minister who is currently under fire from homosexual activists for his stance in defense of marriage as being between one man and one woman, is one of the defendants named in the suit.
Others include Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts; Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.); Maj. Gen. Richard J. Rowe Jr., and Rev. Joe Lowery, who will pray the benediction.
The defendants have until 5 p.m. on Wednesday to file any legal papers in opposition to the plaintiffs.
Newdow, a Sacramento, Calif.-based attorney became famous for filing suit in federal court in 2000 to stop school children from being “forced” to say “one nation under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance – and again in 2005 to remove “In God We Trust” from coins and currency.