This Week in God

THIS WEEK IN GOD…. First up from the God Machine this week is a twist on concerns about the use of religion in the Obama inauguration in two weeks. Rick Warren was obviously the basis for one controversy, but a new lawsuit has other issues in mind.

A number of atheists and non-religious organizations want Barack Obama’s inauguration ceremony to leave out all references to God and religion.

In a lawsuit filed Tuesday in Washington, the plaintiffs demand that the words “so help me God” not be added to the end of the president’s oath of office.

In addition, the lawsuit objects to plans for ministers to deliver an invocation and a benediction in which they may discuss God and religion.

An advance copy of the lawsuit was posted on a Web site by Michael Newdow, a California doctor and lawyer who has filed similar and unsuccessful suits over inauguration ceremonies in 2001 and 2005.

The new lawsuit says in part, “There can be no purpose for placing ‘so help me God’ in an oath or sponsoring prayers to God, other than promoting the particular point of view that God exists…. Plaintiffs are placed in the untenable position of having to choose between not watching the presidential inauguration or being forced to countenance endorsements of purely religious notions that they expressly deny.”

Newdow is perhaps best known as the person who challenged the constitutionality of “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, and was successful before the Supreme Court reversed the 9th Circuit on procedural grounds.

The inauguration lawsuit is not expected to do well in the courts. Newdow conceded, “I have no doubt I’ll lose.”

Also from the God Machine this week:

* The number of American Catholics entering the priesthood has plummeted, forcing dioceses to start recruiting priests from Africa, Latin America, and India. As this interesting New York Times article explained, the immigrant priests often experience culture shock, and not incidentally, also leave their home countries with priests shortages.

* There’s a new generation of “satellite sheiks” on Middle Eastern television who are shaking up the Muslim landscape in unexpected ways, helping fuel a “religious revival across the Arab world,” thanks to the enormous rise in access to satellite TV. Most notably, Ahmad al-Shugairi has become something of a star, mixing Islam, humor, modernism, and criticism of sectarianism. Shugairi sometimes refers to Islam as “an excellent product that needs better packaging.” His celebrity, not surprisingly, is drawing fire from more traditional Muslim leaders.