U.S. High Court to Hear Pledge of Allegiance Case

Reply Tue 14 Oct, 2003 09:20 am
U.S. High Court to Hear Pledge of Allegiance Case
Oct. 14 (Bloomberg)

The U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether asking public school students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance with the phrase ``under God'' violates the constitutionally mandated separation of religion and state.

The justices agreed to hear a California school district's appeal of a ruling that caused an uproar of criticism by barring the district from asking children to say the pledge. The suit was filed by Michael Newdow, an atheist who says daily recitations of the pledge at his daughter's school interfered with his right to teach her his beliefs.

The Supreme Court ruled in 1943, before the reference to God was inserted by Congress, that public schools can't force children to recite the pledge. In 1962, the justices barred organized prayer in public schools. Still, individual justices in several rulings have voiced support for the wording of the pledge and the national motto ``In God We Trust'' used on U.S. currency.

The justices said today in Washington they will also decide whether Newdow has legal standing to challenge the school district's policy.

The court will hear arguments early next year and rule by July. The lower court put its ruling on hold until the Supreme Court decided whether to hear the case.

The Supreme Court opens its argument sessions with an announcement by the court's marshal that includes the phrase ``God save the United States and this honorable court.''

First Amendment

The Pledge of Allegiance was adopted by Congress in 1942, and the phrase ``under God'' was added in 1954 to reject the ``communist philosophy,'' according to a congressional report.

Newdow's daughter is enrolled in the Elk Grove Unified School District in Sacramento. His lawsuit filed in March 2000 said she was harmed by being forced to ``watch and listen as her state- employed teacher in her state-run school leads her classmates in a ritual proclaiming that there is a God.''

He sued under the Constitution's First Amendment, which says, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.''

A federal judge ruled against Newdow, a Sacramento emergency room doctor with a law degree who acts as his own attorney. The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed in June 2002, saying the school district's policy of teacher-led recitations of the pledge was unconstitutional.

"The statement that the United States is a nation `under God' is an endorsement of religion'' that tells non-believers they are not full members of the political community, the appeals court said.

Members of Congress

The decision was immediately criticized by President George W. Bush, Attorney General John Ashcroft and members of Congress. More than 35 members of the Senate and House of Representatives filed court briefs supporting the government's appeal, as did all 50 states and the school boards of 10 states.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a nonprofit group, asked the justices to either deny review or set aside the 9th Circuit ruling so lower courts can consider additional claims by Newdow.

The Bush administration, which was invited by the Supreme Court to file a brief in the case, argued that Newdow lacked legal standing to sue because at the time he didn't have custody of his daughter, who lives with her mother, Sandra Banning.

Banning filed a brief saying neither she nor her daughter objected to saying the pledge and that Banning considered it ``an important, patriotic expression of American ideals.''

The 9th Circuit court said Newdow could sue to challenge state action affecting his child.

On Sept. 13, Newdow sent the Supreme Court a letter saying a California family court judge had given him joint custody of his daughter. In response, Olson told the court in a letter that Newdow ``continues to lack the ability to sue on the child's behalf'' because a court transcript shows the judge gave Banning the final say in instances when the two parents disagree.

`Not a Religious Act'

The Elk Grove school district filed a separate appeal arguing that the pledge "is not a religious act nor does it convey a religious belief.'' Instead, the pledge is ``a patriotic exercise which is part of the fabric of our society,'' the school district's lawyers said.

Newdow filed his own appeal asking the justices to order ``under God'' removed from the pledge.

"Those who deny the existence of a supreme being have been turned into second-class citizens by a government that continuously sends messages that `real Americans' believe in God,'' Newdow's appeal said.

Justice Antonin Scalia didn't participate in today's decision to hear the case. Newdow asked Scalia to remove himself from the case because Scalia was quoted in media reports in January as citing the 9th Circuit decision among rulings he said went overboard in keeping religion out of government.

The case is Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow, 02- 1624.
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Reply Tue 14 Oct, 2003 10:48 am
This issue, for sure, will generate much heat. How much light, on the other hand, I'm not sure.

What a great combination: religion and politics! Talk about your great taboos for small talk in bars.

Lest we forget, "under God" was added during the Cold War. I say this before folks jump in with their thoughts on what the Founding Fathers might have had in mind 200+ years ago...
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Frank Apisa
Reply Tue 14 Oct, 2003 10:54 am

Glad they are going to hear it.

Hope they affirm the lower court ruling.
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Reply Tue 14 Oct, 2003 05:43 pm
D'artagnan, I've been self-editing the Pledge for at least 50 years:

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, (delete under God) indivisible, with liberty and justice for all (add some day.)

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