Balance AWOL in WaPo, MSNBC Coverage of Atheists' Inauguration Suit

Well-known atheist Michael Newdow is old news. Few mainstream media outlets are covering the suit he filed  Dec. 30 in U.S. District Court to strip prayer and any mention of God from the inaugural ceremony of President-elect Barack Obama. Of those that are reporting on the suit, however, the Washington Post and MSNBC gave Newdow and his fellow litigants a largely unchallenged platform to argue their case.

Newdow has long fought to impose a tyranny of the minority, failing in attempts to remove God from inaugural ceremonies in 2001 and 2005, and losing a U.S. Supreme Court battle in 2004 to remove the phrase “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance. He was joined in the current suit by the American Humanist Association (AHA), the Freedom From Religion Foundation and others. The suit names U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, Rev. Rick Warren, liberal California senator Dianne Feinstein and several other individuals associated with the inaugural events as defendants in their case. 

In her Dec. 31 article, Post reporter Nikita Stewart cited a portion of the lawsuit that labeled the prayers “completely exclusionary, showing absolute disrespect to Plaintiffs and others of similar religious views, who explicitly reject the purely religious claims that will be endorsed, i.e., (a) there exists a God, and (b) the United States government should pay homage to that God.” 

Stewart also quoted Bob Ritter, staff attorney for the AHA, saying, “the group could win 'as long as the judges uphold the Constitution.'”

The only counterpoint to the atheist view appeared in the final two paragraphs of Stewart's article and was pulled from a statement released by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.  Scott Walter, executive director of the Becket Fund noted in the statement “Newdow's lawsuit over the inauguration is a lot like the streaker at the Super Bowl: a pale, self-absorbed distraction. And anybody who looks at it carefully can see there's not much there.” 

MSNBC's report failed to include any kind of counterpoint to his new claim and simply quoted a Dec. 29 Washington Examiner article in which he stated, “Equality is important to me. We should show equal respects for all of our citizens, regardless of their race, gender or religion.”

Both Fox News and the Examiner offered counterarguments to Newdow's claim. The Examiner's Kathleen Miller reported that Prof. Ron Allen, a constitutional law expert at Northwestern University believes “No one thinks the government is establishing a church by the president saying 'so help me God' at his own initiative when taking the oath.  I don't think the courts will intervene.” 

Fox News invited Dan Barker, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation and Peter Sprigg, the Family Research Council's vice-president of policy, to debate the issue during the Dec. 30 broadcast of America's News HQ.  Barker alleged that Chief Justice Roberts is “overstepping his authority in inserting the phrase “So help me God” in the presidential oath” and that it “is un-American…unfair…marginalizes.  It makes those of us good Americans who don't believe in God second-class citizens.” 

Sprigg shot back, “having a simple prayer at an inaugural ceremony doesn't come anywhere close to” violating the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment. Sprigg further argued, “Ironically, if a lawsuit like this were to succeed, we would in effect be establishing atheism as the national religion by barring any mention of God or any allusion to religion in any public ceremony.” 

Perhaps, as he asserted, Newdow does believe in “equal respects for all of our citizens, regardless of their race, gender or religion.”. But with this lawsuit, he and his cronies clearly indicated their belief that atheists are more equal than those who believe in God.