Battling these instances of ceremonial deism may hurt the case against truly theocratic gestures
The Supreme Court has, not surprisingly, declined to reinstate a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of adding the phrase "so help me God" to the presidential oath of office and including prayers in the inaugural ceremony. The suit, Newdow v Roberts, brought by Michael Newdow, the American Humanist Association's legal center, and a long list of non-theist organizations and individuals, was dismissed for lack of standing by the D.C. Court of Appeals. The plaintiffs never did secure a hearing on the merits of their claim. They would have lost on the merits, but their argument is worth examining anyway. It exemplifies what advocates of official religiosity have powerfully derided as an "offended observer" claim.
Citing the unique importance of inaugurations -- "the grandest ceremonies in our national existence" -- plaintiffs assert that they "have a right to view their government in action without being forced to confront official endorsements of religious dogma with which they disagree ... Prayers that declare there is a God exclude Atheistic Americans ... making them feel like 'outsiders' due to their personal religious beliefs." (Never mind that plaintiff's argument is based on their lack of religious beliefs.) They claim to have been injured by "being personally compelled," as the price of viewing the inauguration, "to endure government sponsored, clergy led prayer to a (Christian) God," and "to witness the Chief Justice, without any authority, alter the presidential oath ... so that it includes the purely religious phrase, 'so help me God.'" Some non-theists "have felt compelled" not to view the inauguration in order to protect themselves and their children from its religious rituals.