Pledge Case Gathers Momentum (June/July 2003)

All 50 state attorneys general have officially urged the U.S. Supreme Court to review the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision declaring “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance to be unconstitutional.

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft in late April also asked the Supreme Court to toss out the 9th Circuit ruling, making a brief and erroneous public statement: “Our religious heritage has been recognized and celebrated for hundreds of years in the National Motto (‘In God We Trust’).”

As numerous newspapers on the history of the pledge have reported since last summer’s ruling, the pledge was not amended to include a reference to a deity until 1954, more than 50 years after it was first written.

The Elk Grove Unified School District urged the Supreme Court in May to consider reversing a ban on the Pledge of Allegiance without even reviewing the lower court decision. The “summary reversal” requested by the California district is usually reserved for cases in which a lower court steps far out of line.

The school’s petition claims the “national uproar” caused by the decision shows that “the reference to God in the pledge is interwoven in the fabric of our society.”

A 3-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals governing many western states initially ruled last summer in favor of atheist dad Michael Newdow, M.D., also an attorney, who is taking the case himself. The school district asked the entire appeals court to reconsider the ruling, but on Feb. 28, that request was denied. The ruling, however, was modified to apply only to the Pledge of Allegiance in public school settings.

Newdow therefore is also asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review his case, requesting that it uphold the original decision ruling the use of “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance to be unconstitutional in all circumstances.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation will be filing a friend of the court brief on behalf of Newdow’s request for cert. Denver attorney Robert R. Tiernan’s brief calls the religious intrusion in the pledge to be “an affront to the many loyal Americans who do not believe in or worship a god.”

“For almost fifty years the phrase ‘under God’ in the pledge of allegiance has been a major burr in the saddle of millions of Americans who do not believe in or worship a god. There are an estimated 30 million adult citizens in the United States who do not believe in god or adhere to organized religion.”

Tiernan cites polls showing a “growing climate of intolerance in this country toward atheists and unbelievers.”

“Government endorsements of religion exacerbate this problem by creating the impression that god is an integral part of our system of government and that rejecting this notion is tantamount to treason. It has thus become fashionable to condemn those who refuse to recite a religious pledge as ‘unAmerican.’ “

Freedom From Religion Foundation