Michael A. Newdow isn't going away now that the U.S. Supreme Court has dismissed on technical grounds his challenge to the constitutionality of the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Although barred from bringing his claim again in a federal jurisdiction, the outspoken Sacramento atheist told CT immediately after the June 14 ruling that he will file suit against the Elk Grove Unified School District in state court.
Perhaps more significantly, Newdow says he is willing to act as the attorney for 20 other people, half of them Californians. They are prepared to mount a coordinated effort in federal court over the legality of the oath being recited in public schools.
Newdow believes this ruling only delays an inevitable tilt in his favor. "I'm not the only one," Newdow said. "There are a whole bunch of litigants looking to file in the federal courts. They all believe in the Constitution."
For now, as students prepare to return to classes, the Pledge is legal everywhere. Sacramento attorney Terence J. Cassidy, who represented the school district, spent much of his oral arguments noting that mother Sandra Benning had legal custody and the right to decide whether the child recited the oath.
Cassidy told CT, "The Court is looking at what is in the best interest of the student, not the parents."
Yet numerous Christian groups criticized the Court for avoiding the constitutional issue.
"It's a shame the Court couldn't unify around the same principle that has been unifying the rest of us since the Declaration of Independence: Our rights are secure because they come from a higher authority than the state," said Kevin J. Hasson, president of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty in Washington. "Sooner or later, the Court will have to face up to that." Hasson authored a friend-of-the-Court brief on behalf of the Knights of Columbus, which successfully lobbied Congress to add the words "under God" to the recitation half a century ago.
"Look for more atheists to come out of the closet in the near future with new attacks on the Pledge," said Family Research Council president Tony Perkins. "The high court will not be able to sidestep this issue for long."
Foes of the oath also found fault. "The justices ducked this constitutional issue today, but it is certain to come back in the future," said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, and Justice Clarence Thomas all wrote separate opinions citing various reasons to uphold the legality of the Pledge.
Newdow views those opinions as more fodder for his side. "That was nice of them to do that," he said. "Now we know when we bring the next case exactly what to say to show how their arguments are flawed."
Yet Cassidy believes the outcome will have a long-term positive impact. "It will be much more difficult to bring a successful case challenging the Pledge of Allegiance with the words 'under God' in the wake of this decision," he predicted. "The majority recognize that it is a patriotic exercise that is a public acknowledgement of the ideals our flag symbolizes."
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Also posted today is a Christianity Today editorial, Divisible After All | More important than keeping the phrase 'under God' is the reason for keeping it.
The complete decision is available from the Supreme Court.
A compilation of our coverage of the "Under God" battle is available from our Pledge Hot Topic page. Some highlights include:
Weblog: Supreme Shocker—'Under God' Stays Because of a Technicality | Supreme Court says Michael Newdow doesn't have authority to speak for his daughter. Plus: Reactions from conservative Christian advocacy organizations. (June 14, 2004)
Atheist Dad in 'Under God' Case Literally Applauded, But Likely to Lose | Supreme Court justices will probably overturn ruling, but maybe without addressing Pledge issues. (March 25, 2004)
One Nation Under God—Sort of | We've got bigger problems than the Pledge of Allegiance. (Jan. 07, 2004)
A Crack in the Wall | Two recent books help explain Thomas Jefferson's intent for "separation of church and state." (Oct. 10, 2002)
Is Patriotism Dead? | The day that patriotism ceases, that day we will have ceased to be a people. (July 3, 2001)
Christian History Corner: Should We Fight for 'Under God'? | The right approach to these two little words may not be obvious. (June 04, 2004)
Is God an American Institution? | The Ninth Circuit Court's decision is about more than the mention of God in a patriotic ritual, it goes to the heart of the debate about our nation's spiritual heritage. (June 27, 2002)
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