Atheists and several non-religious organizations have filed a 39-page lawsuit to prohibit the use of religious phrases and references to God when President-elect Barack Obama takes the oath of office Jan. 20.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Washington, demands the words “so help me God” and other “explicitly religious dogma” not be uttered at the end of the swearing-in ceremony, the Washington Post reports. In addition, the suit will try to prohibit ministers from invoking a benediction in which God and religion are discussed.
"There can be no purpose for placing 'so help me God' in an oath or sponsoring prayers to God, other than promoting the particular point of view that God exists," says the lawsuit, posted online by a California lawyer who has filed similar and unsuccessful suits over inauguration ceremonies.
Parties to the suit, which states references to God during inauguration ceremonies violates the Constitution's ban on the establishment of religion, include the American Humanist Association; the Freedom from Religion Foundation; atheist groups from Minnesota, Seattle, Washington and Florida; and a handful of other groups advocating religious freedom or atheism.
Atheists contend having to watch a ceremony with religious components will make them feel excluded and stigmatized.
"Plaintiffs are placed in the untenable position of having to choose between not watching the presidential inauguration or being forced to countenance endorsements of purely religious notions that they expressly deny," the lawsuit reads.
Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who is expected to swear in Obama, is named in the suit, along with the Presidential Inauguration Committee, the Joint Congressional Committee on Inauguration Ceremonies, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the Armed Forces Inaugural Committee, and Maj. Gen. Richard Rowe Jr.
The Rev. Rick Warren and the Rev. Joseph Lowery, both scheduled to participate in the ceremony, also are named.
CNN reports that Obama, who will use the Bible Abraham Lincoln used for his inauguration, is not named in the suit because of his rights as an individual that allow him to express religious beliefs.
The Supreme Court has stated that public acknowledgments of God “are ceremonial, not theological, and serve the legitimate secular purposes of solemnizing public occasions, expressing confidence in the future, and encouraging the recognition of what is worthy of appreciation in society."
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