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God in OUR Pledge
SCOTUS PRESERVES GOD PLEDGE,
RULES AGAINST NEWDOW ON STANDING
Constitutional Merits Of Case Ignored
The U.S. Supreme Court announced today that "under God" would remain -- at least temporarily -- in the nation's Pledge of Allegiance, and that California Atheist Michael Newdow lacked proper legal standing to challenge the controversial practice.
The decision comes in the case of ELK GROVE UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT v. NEWDOW.
Newdow, an attorney and physician, filed suit against the unison recitation of the Pledge arguing that it interfered with his rights as a parent to direct the upbringing of his daughter, and violated the constitutional separation of church and state.
The words "under God" were not a component of the original pledge which was adopted as an official patriotic tribute by the U.S. Congress in 1942. At the height of the Cold War, however, the Roman Catholic Church, Hearst newspaper chain, American Legion and other organizations demanded that the phrase be amalgamated into the Pledge as a statement against "godless Communism." Federal lawmakers approved, and then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the measure in 1954.
Previous attempts to challenge the religionized Pledge including a suit filed by prominent Atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair were turned down by the courts. In 2002, however, the legal challenged filed by Newdow reached the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, where a panel of judges ruled that the inclusion of "under God" violated the First Amendment.
Judge Alfred T. Goodwin opined:
"A profession that we are a nation 'under God' is identical, for Establishment Clause purposes, to a profession that we are a nation 'under Jesus,' a nation 'under Vishnu,' a nation 'under Zeus,' or a nation 'under no God,' because none of these professions can be neutral with respect to religion."
Newdow argued the case personally in front of the Supreme Court two months ago. Legal observers, including those supporting the "under God" version of the Pledge, praised his performance noting that he raised persuasive legal arguments. Today's ruling against Newdow, however, was based on the peripheral issue of standing. Newdow remains in a protracted custody fight with the mother of his daughter. The eight Justices agreed that he lack sufficient status to file the case on her behalf.
Justice Antonin Scalia recused himself from the case after making public statements prior to oral arguments that he supported the religionized version of the Pledge of Allegiance.
Writing today for the eight other jurists, Justice John Paul Stevens opined: "When hard questions of domestic relations are sure to affect the outcome, the prudent course if for the federal court to stay its hand rather than reach out to resolve a weighty question of federal constitutional law."
Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist supported that decision, but penned a separate opinion arguing that the Pledge as recited today does not violate the Constitution. News reports indicate that Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Clarence Thomas concurred.
Is this the end of the NEWDOW case?
"There will be another case -- soon -- challenging the 'under God' portion of the Pledge of Allegiance," said Ellen Johnson, president of American Atheists.
In a statement to the news media, Johnson declared that by denying NEWDOW on the basis of standing, "the high court conveniently circumvented any substantive legal arguments over the constitutionality of this invasive practice which insults and marginalizes millions of Atheists, Freethinkers, Secular Humanists and other nonbelievers."