ACLJ Encouraged that Federal Appeals Court Rejects Newdow Challenge to Inaugural Prayer

May 23, 2011

3 min read




January 17, 2005

(Washington, DC) The American Center for Law and Justice, focusing on constitutional law, said today it is pleased that a federal appeals court has rejected a request by Michael Newdow to prohibit prayer at this Thursday's Presidential inauguration.  A federal district court on Friday rejected Newdow's request for an injunction to stop the clergy prayers and late Sunday the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected his appeal.  Newdow is now expected to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to step in and stop the prayers.

"We're delighted to see the courts continue to uphold a time-honored tradition and we have every reason to believe that the prayers will take place as scheduled on Thursday," said Jay Sekulow, Chief Counsel of the ACLJ, which has challenged Newdow's lawsuits in the past.  "This legal challenge has no merit and the courts have repeatedly held that such expressions do not violate the constitution.  We're pleased that now a second court -- a federal appeals court -- has rejected this faulty challenge.  If Newdow persists and asks the Supreme Court to get involved, we will support the Department of Justice's position and file a brief with the high court in support of the constitutionality of the prayers."

On Friday, a federal district court rejected Michael Newdows challenge and late Sunday the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected the appeal.  Newdow has said he will take the case to the Supreme Court. 

In a decision issued on Friday, U.S. District Court Judge John Bates rejected Newdows legal challenge saying there is a strong argument, that at this late date, the public interest would best be served by allowing the 2005 Inauguration ceremony to proceed on January 20 as planned.  

The court continued:  That would be consistent with the inclusion of clergy prayer in all Presidential inaugurations since 1937, and with the inclusion of religious prayer or reference in every inauguration commencing with the first inauguration of President Washington in 1789.  To do otherwise, moreover, would at this eleventh hour cause considerable disruption in a significant, carefully-planned, national event, requiring programming and other adjustments.  The material change requested by Newdow in an accepted and well-established historical pattern of short prayers or religious references during Presidential inaugurations, based on this last-minute challenge, is not likely to serve the public interest, particularly where Newdows ability to proceed with this action remains in doubt and there is no clear evidence of impermissible sectarian proselytizing.

In briefs filed in connection with this case, the ACLJ contends the constitutionality of the inaugural prayer is settled law with the Supreme Court in 1983 concluding in its decision in Marsh v. Chambers that the opening of sessions of legislative and other deliberative public bodies with prayer is deeply embedded in the history and tradition of this country.  The high court also noted that the First Congress did not consider opening prayers as a proselytizing activity or as symbolically placing the governments official seal of approval on one religious view.

Last year, the ACLJ filed a brief at the Supreme Court opposing Newdows challenge to the Pledge of Allegiance, which the high court rejected.  Newdow has filed a new lawsuit once again challenging the Pledge and the ACLJ will again file briefs opposing that challenge.  

The ACLJ is based in Washington, D.C.