Newdow returns to court to argue new pledge
By Julia Cheever
December 4, 2007
Michael Newdow, the atheist father who challenged the words
"under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, will be back
before a U.S. appeals court in San Francisco today with a renewed
dispute of the phrase.
Newdow, an emergency room doctor and lawyer, will also argue
a second case challenging the motto "In God We Trust"
on American coins and currency at the hearing before the 9th U.S.
Circuit Court of Appeals.
Newdow claims the references to God violate the constitutional
ban on government establishment of religion, while school district
and federal officials say the words are merely ceremonial and
A three-judge panel is expected to take the two cases under consideration
after hearing arguments and issue written rulings at a later date.
Newdow's first challenge to the pledge began in a federal court
in Sacramento and created a national firestorm when the 9th Circuit
ruled in 2002 that it was unconstitutional to require public school
children to hear the pledge recited with the words "under
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal by the Sacramento-area
Elk Grove Unified School District.
But in 2004, the high court sidestepped the issue and dropped
the case, saying that Newdow didn't have standing to sue because
a local custody ruling denied him final authority over his daughter's
Newdow then filed a new lawsuit on behalf of another family,
a mother and child in the Rio Linda Union School District, also
in Sacramento County.
U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton of Sacramento ruled in favor
of the mother and child in 2005, saying he was bound by the earlier
appeals court ruling.
That decision was appealed by the school district and the federal
government, which argued in written briefs that the pledge "is
a patriotic act, not a religious act" and "has become
woven into the fabric of our society."
The dispute is not over whether students should be required to
say the pledge, but rather over whether they should be required
to hear it daily.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1943 that children should not
be forced to recite the pledge.
Newdow argued in papers submitted to the appeals court that creating
a situation in which atheist school children have to opt out of
hearing the pledge is "deeply injurious" because it
stigmatizes them as outsiders.
The phrase "under God" was added to the pledge by Congress
during the Cold War era in 1954.
While Newdow won the pledge case at the trial court level, he
lost the "In God We Trust" case before a different federal
judge in Sacramento, who ruled last year that the motto was definitively
found constitutional by the appeals court in a different case
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