Inauguration Prayer Ban Decision Expected Friday

The atheist who tried to remove the phrase "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance (search) went to court Thursday to argue that the Bible and prayers should be kept out of next week's presidential inauguration ceremonies.

A decision on the matter, Newdow v. Bush, is expected Friday.

Michael Newdow (search) filed the federal lawsuit last month against the government for allowing a prayer to be said at President Bush's (search) Jan. 20 inauguration on the grounds that the use of prayer for such an event is unconstitutional. This is the second inauguration in a row in which Newdow has fought to ban the prayer. Last time, he lost in two federal courts.

In court, the administration asked the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia (search) to dismiss the lawsuit, saying the practice is widely accepted and more than 200 years old.

Newdow has 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 next week.

In court, he argued that the prayers violate the constitutional ban on the establishment of religion.

"I am going to be standing there having this imposed on me," Newdow told the court by phone on Thursday. "They will be telling me I'm an outsider at that particular moment."

Newdow also argued that taxpayer-financed inaugural ceremonies cannot be a platform for "the coercive imposition of religious dogma," adding that the president intended to "use the machinery of the state to advocate his religious beliefs."

In an interview published in Wednesday's Washington Times, Bush, a converted Methodist who prays daily, tried to dispel perceptions that he is advocating his beliefs or imposing them on anyone.

"I think people attack me because they are fearful that I will then say that you're not equally as patriotic if you're not a religious person. I've never said that. I've never acted like that," he said.

Inaugural references to God date back to George Washington's inauguration in 1789. Christian prayers within the ceremony began with Franklin Delano Roosevelt's second inauguration in 1937.

Government attorneys defending the continued use of prayer said in court papers that "there is no reason to reverse course and abandon a widely accepted, noncontroversial aspect of the inaugural ceremony."

Government lawyers added in the courtroom that Supreme Court precedent allows state legislatures and Congress to open each workday with prayer. Newdow countered that legislative sessions are quite different from taxpayer-financed public ceremonies. A large part of next week's inaugural ceremonies is being paid for with private donations, though the federal government is picking up the tab for construction of the viewing stands and security.

Last year, the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (search) tossed out the same lawsuit, saying Newdow did not suffer "a sufficiently concrete and specific injury."

He initially won the Pledge case in 2002 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 2004, however, the U.S. Supreme Court (search) 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 re-filed the Pledge suit in Sacramento federal court earlier this month, naming eight other plaintiffs who are custodial parents or the children themselves.

FOX News' Major Garrett and The Associated Press contributed to this report.