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A U.S. Federal
Appeals Court has Ruled the Pledge of Allegiance Unconstitutional
Because of Its Reference to God, but Critics are Now Saying the Daughter
of the Atheist who Brought the Suit is a Christian-Truth!
Summary of the eRumor The eRumor says that the
9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has decided that because the U.S.
Pledge of Allegiance mentions God, it is unconstitutional because of
the separation of church and state. Follow-up versions say
that the suit that brought the decision is a sham because the
atheist who filed it isn't the only one with parental authority
over the child who was allegedly injured by the pledge and that
the child is a Christian.
As with many legal cases,
especially constitutional ones, this is a complex issue.
First, the story about the Appeals Court decision is true. On 6/26/02
the 9th U.S. District Court of Appeals ruled that the pledge of
allegiance in public schools was and "unconstitutional
endorsement of religion" because of the phrase "under
The next day Circuit Judge Alfred T. Goodwin, who wrote the opinion,
blocked his own ruling until all the members of the 9th circuit
decide whether to reconsider the case. They can choose to
hear the case again with a three judge panel or or an eleven member
panel. U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said his department would request the
eleven. The ruling and the decision to block the ruling have
no effect on the schools affected by the decision since it had not
gone into effect. The decision would affect schools in 9
The decision prompted a national outcry.
At the heart of the controversy is Michael Newdow, a California
emergency room physician with a law degree who has initiated
several court actions acting as his own attorney. In this
case, he sued the El Grove, California school district,
challenging the constitutionality of teachers being required to
lead the students in the Pledge of Allegiance since it included
the phrase "under God." The school district asked
a judge to dismiss the complaint, which he did. Newdow
appealed to the 9th U.S. District Court of Appeals. In his
appeal, Newdow said that his 8-year-old daughter is injured when
she is compelled to watch and listen as the teacher leads her
classmates in the pledge.
Shortly after the appeals court ruling, however, new facts started
emerging about Newdow and his daughter that, at the very least,
brought criticism of Newdow and, at the very most, prompted some
legal experts to say that he might not have a case.
The mother of Newdow's child is Sandra Banning, also of the
Sacramento area. Several articles including one from the
Associated Press on July 11, 2002, quoted Banning as saying that
she and Newdow have never been married, that she has full custody
of their daughter, that both she and the daughter are Christians
who attend church regularly, and that the daughter is not only not
injured by reciting the pledge, but enjoys doing it.
The AP article quotes Rory Little, a Hastings College of the Law professor who follows the 9th Circuit,
as saying that the case could only be heard if there was an
injured party and without that, there is no case. There is
also some question about the viability of his case if he does not
have any custody of his daughter.
Newdow is fighting the custody agreement in court.
He has also filed an appeal to another court action of his that
was dismissed. That one was filed against President Bush,
objecting to a prayer by Bill Graham at his inauguration.
A real example of the eRumor as it has
appeared on the Internet:
SAN FRANCISCO—The Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional
and should not be recited in public schools because it includes the
words "under God," a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.
In its 2-1 decision, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a
1954 act of Congress that inserted the phrase "under God"
after the phrase "one nation" in the pledge.
The Pledge of Allegiance
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to
the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible,
with liberty and justice for all.
The ruling, if allowed to stand, means schoolchildren can no longer
recite the pledge, at least in the nine Western states covered by the
The court said the phrase amounts to a government endorsement of
religion in violation of the Constitution's Establishment Clause, which
requires a separation of church and state.
"A profession that we are a nation 'under God' is identical, for
Establishment Clause purposes, to a profession that we are a nation
'under Jesus,' a nation 'under Vishnu,' a nation 'under Zeus,' or a
nation 'under no god,' because none of these professions can be neutral
with respect to religion," Judge Alfred T. Goodwin wrote for the
The ruling will not take effect for several months, to allow further
appeals. The government can ask the court to reconsider its ruling, or
it can ask the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn it.
"We are certainly considering seeking further review in the
matter," Justice Department lawyer Robert Loeb said.
The case was brought by Michael A. Newdow, a Sacramento atheist who
objected because his second-grade daughter was required to recite the
pledge at the Elk Grove school district. A federal judge had dismissed
"I'm an American citizen. I don't like my rights infringed upon by
my government,"Newdow said, calling the pledgea
"religious idea that certain people don't agree with."
"I'm trying to strengthen the Constitution,"he told Fox
News in an exclusive interview Wednesday afternoon. "Take whoever
you are out there, find a religion you don't agree with, and make them
swear to it. You would object as well.
"If you had to say every morning 'one nation, under Buddha'
… 'under David Koresh' ... pick any specific religion you don't agree
with ... how would you feel?
The Pledge of Allegiance
Do you agree with the federal appeals court ruling
that the Pledge of Allegiance, with the words "under God," is
Yes, the Pledge violates the separation of church and
No, "under God" belongs in the Pledge.
This is not a scientific poll.
"The framers were really smart people. Look
around at the world right now … you have problems because you find
people combining religion and government."
The federal government, in arguing against Newdow's lawsuit,said
that the religious content of "one nation under God"was
But the appeals court said that an atheist or a holder of certain
non-Judeo-Christian beliefs could see it as an endorsement of
The 9th Circuit covers Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho,
Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington state. Those are the only states
directly affected by the ruling.
The appeals court said that when President Eisenhower signed the
legislation inserting "under God" after the words "one
nation," he wrote that "millions of our schoolchildren will
daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and rural
schoolhouse, the dedication of our nation and our people to the
The court noted that the U.S. Supreme Court has said students cannot
hold religious invocations at graduations and cannot be compelled to
recite the pledge. But when the pledge is recited in a classroom, the
appeals court said, a student who objects is confronted with an
"unacceptable choice between participating and protesting."
"Although students cannot be forced to participate in recitation of
the pledge, the school district is nonetheless conveying a message of
state endorsement of a religious belief when it requires public school
teachers to recite, and lead the recitation of, the current form of the
pledge," the court said.
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