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Rejecting an atheist’s request, two justices declined on Wednesday to have the Supreme Court step in and bar the saying of a prayer at President Bush’s inauguration. Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist had first denied Michael Newdow’s claim that a prayer at today’s ceremony would violate the Constitution by forcing Newdow to accept unwanted religious beliefs. Newdow later filed an appeal with Justice John Paul Stevens, who turned it down. Rehnquist also rejected Newdow’s request that the chief justice withdraw from the case because he was to swear in Bush to a second term. Newdow argued that Rehnquist had become a willing fixture in a government ceremony “infused with sectarian Christian religion” and thus had a conflict of interest. Both orders came without comment. Under Court rules, Newdow may choose to file requests with other justices. Two lower courts had rejected Newdow’s request to ban the prayer, suggesting he could not show actual injury. U.S. District Judge John Bates said last week that the court did not have authority to stop the president from inviting clergy to give a religious prayer at the ceremony. Lawyers representing Bush and his inaugural committee said prayers have been widely accepted at inaugurals for more than 200 years and that Bush’s decision to have a minister recite the invocation was a personal choice the Court had no power to prevent. Newdow gained attention two years ago when he sought to have “under God” removed from the Pledge of Allegiance. A federal appeals court ruled that public schools violated the separation of church and state by having students mention God. The Supreme Court later threw out the ruling, saying Newdow could not lawfully sue because he did not have custody of his elementary school-age daughter, on whose behalf he sued. Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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