Atheist Takes New Swing at God in Government
Friday, August 30, 2002
WASHINGTONÂ â€”Â The California atheist who challenged the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance is now going after taxpayer-funded chaplains in Congress.
"If they want a pep talk, then go get a football coach ... but stop getting chaplains and religious folks to come in. It's forbidden," Michael Newdow, a Sacramento-based lawyer and physician, said in an interview Friday.
In a suit filed in U.S. District Court here this week, Newdow said House and Senate chaplain positions compromise a constitutional ban on government-sponsored religion and religious requirements for public servants. The suit names as defendants the Congress and other administrators.
Newdow's suit seeks to abolish the jobs, but makes no specific request for damages.
"It's a civil rights case ... atheists are second-class citizens in this society," Newdow said in the telephone interview. "Even if (the chaplains) weren't getting paid, it's wrong for government to be saying that there's a God. These are religious ideals and the government's not supposed to be weighing in."
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said most people are "comforted by the fact that our chaplains lead us in seeking guidance from a superior power."
All House and Senate chaplains since 1789 have been Christians, the lawsuit notes. The House chaplain now earns $148,500, and Senate chaplain makes $130,000.
A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco sided with Newdow in June, finding unconstitutional the phrase "one nation under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. That decision drew an onslaught of criticism from Capitol Hill, and the Justice Department has since asked the full 9th Circuit court to review it.