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! & Disputed!
Summary of 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 God.”
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 western states.
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.