Michael Newdow lost in his attempt to stop the inauguration prayer, but the reasoning the judges gave in ruling against him makes me wish he had won. At least it would have spurred a deeper debate. Basically, the judges said the prayer could proceed because it didn’t signify anything important and to change it so close to the event would mess up all the planning that has already taken place of the event.. It is a prayer of tradition, they said, devoid of anything that might be considered proselytizing.
In a decision issued late today, U.S. District Court Judge John
Bates rejected Newdow’s 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 Newdow’s
ability to proceed with this action remains in doubt and there is no
clear evidence of impermissible sectarian proselytizing."
So if that is all it is – a few words that don’t signify much – why bother?