On Feb. 23, a federal court will consider the latest attempt to secularize America, led by militant atheist lawyer Michael Newdow. His lawsuit, Newdow v. Roberts, seeks to purge all references to God from presidential inaugurations.
It's the latest assault on people of faith in America, with the goal of creating a purely secular society, and it will only get worse if President Obama fulfills his promise to recreate the Supreme Court.
Although originally filed to affect the 2009 inauguration, this suit now targets 2013 and beyond. Newdow v. Roberts seeks two changes to the ceremony. First, it seeks a court order forbidding the chief justice from saying "so help me God" as he administers the oath of office. Second, it seeks an order forbidding both prayers during the ceremony: the invocation and the benediction. Newdow's suit claims that these actions violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
The suit includes atheist plaintiffs from several states, and several aggressive organizations such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation. That's the group that posted a sign next to holiday displays in the Washington State Capitol last year saying there is no such thing as God or Heaven, and that religion enslaves minds. And plaintiff Newdow is the lawyer who tried to have the Pledge of Allegiance declared unconstitutional because it includes the words "one nation under God."
For 20 years, the Supreme Court has usually applied the "endorsement test" in Establishment Clause cases, asking whether the challenged government action gives the appearance that government endorses a particular faith. Newdow alleges that the inaugural events convey such an endorsement.
But his argument fails for three reasons. First, the endorsement test allows for "ceremonial deism," which the Court describes as solemnizing rituals at public events, or generic words of faith such as "In God We Trust" on currency. The generic religiosity of "so help me God" or prayers asking for national blessing fall within this category.