The Pledge of Allegiance Case Resumes

( [email protected] ) Mar 19, 2004 03:10 PM EST

SACRAMENTO -- Michael Newdow, who claims to be an atheist, will argue his own case, which is expected to be one of the most controversial case of the year, before the Supreme Court March 24, against public school districts that having the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance violates the First Amendment’s ban on government establishment of religion.

Newdow, 50, who is a doctor and lawyer, filed a lawsuit against the Elk Grove Unified School District in California, where his daughter is attending, two years ago in which the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Congress violated the Constitution by adding the phrase “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954.

However in October 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court stayed its own ruling saying it would review whether public schools could require children to recite the pledge with the phrase “under God, ” as the decision outraged the U.S. citizens who were in defense of the Pledge, including President Bush, who called the ruling “out of step.”

Supporters of the pledge argue that general acknowledgment of religion is good for society, and that dropping "under God" would rewrite history or threaten religion's legitimate status.

Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice, a Christian legal defense group, said the phrase reflects one of the nation's founding principles, that "rights emanate from God, not from government."

Sandra Banning, who is currently involved in custodial fight with Newdow, is challenging Newdow’s right to include their daughter in his suit about the Pledge. Banning, who became a “committed Christian” after giving birth to their child, says she wants the girl to be "exposed to her father's views,’ but she believes the phrase "under God" is part of our "patriotic and cultural heritage." Banning said her girl who is attending Elk Grove school, likes to lead her fourth-grade class in reciting the Pledge.

History of the Pledge of Allegiance

The Pledge was first written in 1892 - without the phrase "under God" - and was endorsed by Congress in 1942, soon after the United States entered World War II. A year later, the Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to require public school children to recite it.

In 1954, Congress added "under God" between the words "one nation" and "indivisible." Legislators wanted to underscore the difference between American democracy, founded on "inalienable" God-given rights, and communist governments in which rights came from the state.

In 1993, the Supreme Court declined to examine a lower court decision in Illinois that said including "under God" in the Pledge did not violate the First Amendment. An earlier decision allowed chaplains to lead prayers before state legislative sessions. Another Supreme Court ruling suggested that mottoes such as "In God We Trust," which is on U.S. currency, are "ceremonial" and do not endorse religion.

But the 9th Circuit panel, in ruling for Newdow, said reciting the phrase "under God" is "identical ... to a profession that we are a nation 'under Jesus,' a nation 'under Vishnu,' a nation 'under Zeus,' or a nation "under no god.' None of these professions can be neutral with respect to religion."

Source: USA Today