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Newdow strikes out

Courts | A federal court judge refuses atheist Michael Newdow's request to halt prayers at next week's presidential inauguration

Atheist Michael Newdow struck out in federal court Thursday when a judge denied his request to halt prayers at next Tuesday's presidential inauguration. Newdow, who has made news with previous attempts to scrub God from public life, filed his latest lawsuit in late December.

The lawsuit had urged the court to issue an injunction preventing an invocation and benediction at the swearing-in ceremony for Barack Obama. U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton refused to stop the prayers and rejected Newdow's bid to stop Chief Justice John Roberts from saying, "so help me God," at the end of the presidential oath of office.

In a motion filed earlier this week, lawyers representing Newdow argued that the scheduled prayers amounted to an unconstitutional preference of religion over non-religion. But attorneys for the government argued "prayers and oaths invoking God have been a staple of official inaugural events throughout history, across the country, and at every level of our government. . . . Plaintiffs' breathtaking effort to eliminate our nation's most cherished traditions finds no basis in the Constitution, Supreme Court precedent, or historical custom."

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This is the third time courts have rejected lawsuits filed by Newdow over inaugural prayers. His suits against the Pledge of Allegiance and the national motto, "In God We Trust," are now awaiting decisions in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

"Michael Newdow may have thought the third time was the charm with this lawsuit, but thankfully the court agreed with us, and three strikes means he's out," said Pacific Justice Institute President Brad Dacus. PJI represented Saddleback Church senior pastor Rick Warren, named as a defendant in the case because he was set to offer the inaugural invocation. "The very notion that a federal district judge should order either the chief justice or the president-elect's invited clergy what to say or not say is just censorship by another name."

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