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Atheist will attempt to boot God from inauguration

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Kathleen Miller,Inauguration,First Amendment,Freedom of Religion,Religion,Atheism

A well-known California atheist says he and 17 others, plus atheist and humanist organizations, will file suit today in D.C.'s District Court to strip all references to God and religion from President-elect Barack Obama's January inauguration ceremony.

Michael Newdow, of Sacramento, Calif., says he wants to remove the phrase "so help me God" from the oath of office, plus ax the invocation prayer from Pastor Rick Warren, already under fire from the left for his opposition to gay marriage.

According to Newdow, any reference to God or religion violates the Constitution.

"Equality is important to me," Newdow told The Examiner. "We should show equal respects for all of our citizens, regardless of their race, gender or religion."

The draft of the lawsuit contends: "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 has tried this before: He sued to remove religion from the 2001 and 2005 presidential inaugurations, but lost both times.

In 2005, U.S. District Judge John Bates denied his effort to obtain a preliminary injunction to keep the president from uttering the words "so help me God" as he takes the oath of office.

Nonetheless, Newdow thinks his odds are good.

"It depends on if they decide to uphold the principles of the Constitution or not," Newdow told The Examiner. "If they do, they're 100 percent."

Professor Ron Allen, a constitutional law expert at Northwestern University, disagrees.

"You can understand the impulse; it seems as though it's a governmental activity imbued with religious symbols and a certain sect of religious symbols, Christian obviously, in particular," Allen said. "No one thinks the government is establishing a church by the president saying 'so help me God' at his own initiative when taking the oath. I don't think the courts will intervene."

kmiller@dcexaminer.com

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