WASHINGTON – The government is asking a federal court to dismiss a lawsuit from an atheist who wants to bar the saying of a prayer at President George W. Bush's inauguration (search), calling the practice widely accepted and more than 200 years old, according to a court filing released Monday.
Michael Newdow (search), best known for trying to remove "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance (search), filed suit last month in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. He said the use of a prayer is unconstitutional.
Newdow said that two ministers delivered Christian invocations at Bush's first inaugural ceremony in 2001, and that plans call for a minister to do the same before Bush takes the oath of office again on Jan. 20.
Prayers at presidential inaugurals and legislative sessions go back to 1789, the government said. "There is no reason to reverse course and abandon a widely accepted, noncontroversial aspect of the inaugural ceremony," it said.
Last year, the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (search) tossed the same lawsuit, saying Newdow did not suffer "a sufficiently concrete and specific injury."
He won the pledge case more than two years ago before the same appeals court, which said it was an unconstitutional blending of church and state for public school students to pledge to God.
In June, however, the Supreme Court said Newdow could not lawfully sue because he did not have custody of his elementary school-aged daughter, on whose behalf he sued, and because the girl's mother objected to the suit.
Newdow refiled the pledge suit in Sacramento federal court last week, naming eight other plaintiffs who are custodial parents or the children themselves.