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Can We Ban God from the Presidential Inauguration?

By: for The Houston Chronicle on Jan. 10, 2009

As reported by CNN, a group of atheists and humanists’ organizations are legally challenging Barack Obama's right to make any references to God or religion at his upcoming presidential inauguration ceremony. In a lawsuit filed Tuesday in Washington, D.C., plaintiffs demanded that "so help me God" be not added to the end of Obama's oath of office. 

The lawsuit filed by California doctor and lawyer Michael Newdow further objects to plans for ministers to deliver invocations or benedictions which refer to God or religion. Also joining the lawsuit are organizations such as the American Humanist Association, the Freedom from Religion Foundation and atheist groups from Minnesota; Seattle, Washington; and Florida. 

So, what’s the plaintiffs’ main objection? They claim that having to watch a ceremony with religious content will make them – a minority group - feel stigmatized or steamrolled by the religious majority. Yet, while they feel they have the right to not hear anything about God or religion, if their suggestion is implemented it would also restrict the right of the president and other inaugural speakers to express their own beliefs.  

While no compromise can satisfy everyone, I think with a little sensitivity, whatever religious references that may be made in the ceremony can be respectful to the atheistic minority. For instance, Barack Obama, the Rev. Rick Warren or Rev. Joseph Lowery might consider saying something like, “although not everyone in our great nation believes in a higher power or supreme being, in America we have the right to profess our faith in Almighty God or not, and it is my personal choice to seek God’s blessings at this important time to help guide this nation through the difficult challenges that loom in her future.” At least such language acknowledges those who don't believe in a higher being.  

If something like this is added, it might slightly placate atheists by acknowledging their minority position. Otherwise, if non-believers are offended by any godly references, they are certainly free to exercise their constitutional right to NOT watch the inauguration at all. Or if they want to get creative, perhaps they can get a delayed video of the ceremony which edits out any theistic elements.

In closing, let's remember one thing: just as the doubtful minority's opinion should be respected, so should the faithful majority’s.

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