Defendants File Answers in Newdow Inauguration Lawsuit

January 11, 2009

Another update on   Newdow v. Roberts , Michael Newdow’s lawsuit challenging the use of prayer and the addition of the words "so help me God" at the Presidential Inauguration (   see my prior post ): both the Presidential Inauguration Committee and the federal officials named the lawsuit have filed answers to Newdow’s complaint.    The Presidential Inauguration Committee’s brief argues that the plaintiffs lack standing to sue because it is Barack Obama, and not the Committee, who will make decisions about the inauguration.  The Committee also argues that it is not a government entity, and therefore is not subject to the strictures of the First Amendment or the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.    The federal officials’ brief also attacks the plaintiffs’ standing, and outlines multiple arguments on the merits of the complaint.  Among other things, the federal officials skewer Newdow and the other plaintiffs (including the American Humanist Association, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Atheists United and others) for failing to mention a published federal court decision rejecting Newdow’s challenge to the use of prayer in the 2005 inauguration, as well as Newdow’s failed lawsuit regarding the 2001 inauguration.

In addition,   CNN has reported that Barack Obama has requested that Chief Justice Roberts add the phrase "so help me God" to the constitutionally prescribed oath of office.  This moots the plaintiffs’ claim against the use of the altered oath.  The   plaintiffs’ complaint states: "If President-elect Obama (as a black man fully aware of the vile effects that stem from a majority’s disregard of a minority’s rights, and as a Democrat fully aware of the efficacy his Republican predecessor’s "so help me God" oath additions) feels that the verbiage formulated by the Founders is so inadequate that he needs to interlard his oath with a purely religious phrase deemed unnecessary by the first twenty presidents, Plaintiffs have no objection at this time. The President, like all other individuals, has Free Exercise rights, which might permit such an alteration."

I have argued   elsewhere that if the district or appellate courts reach the merits of the complaint, this lawsuit is virtually certain to yield case law that harms the wall of separation.  My hope is that the court will reject the case on procedural grounds (e.g., plaintiffs’ lack of standing).



#1 diogenes99 on Sunday January 11, 2009 at 9:53am

Thank you for keeping us up-to-date on this case, and for offering your analysis on its merits.

#2 Gene Garman (Guest) on Sunday January 11, 2009 at 8:16pm

USA Today called today (Sunday, Jan. 11) and informed me it would print my letter on the subject. Look for it.

#3 Jeff P (Guest) on Monday January 12, 2009 at 12:24pm

Gene is your letter published elsewhere, on a blog or another site?  I don’t subscribe to USA today and wondered if you’ve already posted it elsewhere.

#4 Gene Garman (Guest) on Monday January 12, 2009 at 12:52pm


USA Today called me Sunday afternoon (3 P.M. EDT) and my letter obviously did not get printed in today’s issue. Perhaps tomorrow.


#5 Gene Garman (Guest) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 at 7:16am

My letter to the editor, as copied below, appears in today’s issue, January 13, 2009, along with another good letter.

Gene Garman:

Refer to the Constitution

Gene Garman - Pittsburg, Kan.

Thank you for the article on the lack of proof that George Washington said “so help me God” at his inaugural oath-taking.

There is proof that the Constitution, to which President Washington committed himself and which he approved as a Founding Father, specifically commands “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” See Article 6 of the document.
Posted at 12:09 AM/ET, January 13, 2009 in Letter to the editor, Religion - Letters | Permalink

#6 Jeff P (Guest) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 at 8:20am

Great post, Gene.  Thanks

#7 diogenes99 on Tuesday January 13, 2009 at 8:23am

The link is:

Perhaps the real legal issue is not adding “so help me god.”  Perhaps the real issue is changing the content at all.  For example, I wonder if a presidential elect can modify the oath anyway he or she wants as long as the constitutional version is embedded in the verbiage.  For example, could a president elect say “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, AND BALANCE THE BUDGET, STOP GLOBAL WARMING, ENCOURAGE VEGANISM, AND TRY TO QUIT SMOKING.

#8 diogenes99 on Thursday January 15, 2009 at 12:15pm

INSIDE THE FIRST AMENDMENT By Charles C. Haynes / First Amendment Center

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