Date Set for Pledge Case

Ninth Circuit to hold oral arguments to the case challenging the constitutionality of the Pledge of Allegiance
( [email protected] ) Jan 14, 2004 11:59 AM EST

WASHINGTON – On Jan 12, The U.S. Supreme Court set March 24 for oral arguments in the high-profile case challenging the constitutionality of the acknowledgment of God in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Eight justices will review a decision by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that inclusion of the words "under God" in the recitation of the pledge by public school students violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment. The Ninth Circuit’s 2002 decision that denounced the clause was met with waves of criticism that forced the case into a state of appeal. The Bush administration, as well as many Americans, called for the high court to review the ruling and reverse it.

Justice Antonin Scalia, widely considered the court’s most conservative member, recused himself from the oral argument without explanation. Scalia had spoken critically of the lower court’s ruling, but his absence to the Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow case may sustain the Ninth Court’s decision.

Michael Newdow, a self-described atheist, initiated the case on behalf of his 8-year-old daughter whom he said opposed the pledge. However, after a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit ruled for Newdow in June 2002, Sandra Banning, the mother and sole custodian of the girl said her daughter enjoyed the pledge. Banning and her daughter are regular members of Calvary Chapel of Laguna Creek, an evangelical church in Elk Grove, Calif.

Following the newfound information, the Ninth Circuit considered requests it review the decision with an 11-member panel. In February 2003, the court announced it would not rehear the case. At the same time, the panel issued an amended opinion that did not strike down the pledge entirely, but banned classroom recitations of the pledge.

The upcoming high-court ruling would remain in force in the states of Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. The appeals court is based in San Francisco, Calif. The school district is near Sacramento.