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Last Updated: Saturday, 15 January, 2005, 04:49 GMT
Atheist loses Bush prayer fight
A police officer near the US Capitol building, Washington DC
Preparations for the inauguration are already well underway
A US atheist has lost a legal fight to stop prayers being said at President George W Bush's upcoming inauguration.

Naming Mr Bush as a defendant, Michael Newdow said the inclusion of prayer made him feel like a "second class citizen" because of his beliefs.

A judge ruled that Mr Newdow failed to show that he suffered serious injury because of the prayer's inclusion.

Prayers have featured in inaugurations since George Washington, the US's first president, was sworn in in 1789.

Last year Mr Newdow failed to have the words "one nation, under God" removed from the Pledge of Allegiance recited in school assemblies across the US.

At the US District Court in Washington, DC on Friday, Judge John Bates dismissed Mr Newdow's claim.

The judge ruled that a last-minute changes to the itinerary for the inauguration would cause "considerable disruption" to a heavily-planned national event.

Church and state

"Newdow's alleged injury remains somewhat tenuous, not concrete," the judge added.

In a 50-page ruling, Judge Bates asserted that clergy have been present at every inauguration since 1937, while prayers have formed part of the ceremony since 1789.

In addition, Mr Bush's decision to invite clergy to the inauguration is a personal choice and one that cannot be challenged in law, the judge ruled.

Two years ago Mr Newdow, who is qualified both as a doctor and a lawyer, won a ruling from a San Francisco court that the mention of God in US public schools violated the constitutionally-enshrined separation of church and state.

But the ruling was later overturned by the US Supreme Court when it determined that Mr Newdow did not have legal custody of his daughter when he filed a suit on her behalf.

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