Pledging Allegiance to Secular Constitution

Statement by the Freedom From Religion Foundation

Congratulations go to Michael Newdow, the doctor/attorney who became a household name last year when he unexpectedly won his challenge before the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to remove under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance.

Not only will the U.S. Supreme Court hear the case, as urged by both sides, but, in another unanticipated twist, Justice Antonin Scalia has recused himself from hearing the pledge challenge. Newdow submitted a powerful motion to the court revealing Scalia’s bias, as proved by remarks made last spring to a chapter of the Knights of Columbus, the group which claims credit for inserting the religious words into the previously secular pledge. Even Scalia, it appears, had to agree. This is a turn of events to savor!

Newdow has joked that his case is “David versus Goliath”–with the law entirely on his side, making him the “Goliath.” Speaking last weekend at the 26th annual convention of the Freedom From Religion Foundation in Washington, D.C., Newdow went through the Establishment Clause precedent showing how he plans to use case after case, and can cite quote after quote by the seated justices, against the religious pledge. Newdow, whom the Foundation named our “Freethinker of the Year” in 2002, made a persuasive case to the Foundation audience of 300.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is the only organization in the country that filed a fully friendly “friend of the court” brief in favor of Newdow’s request for certiorari before the U.S. Supreme Court. We agreed with Newdow that the original Ninth Circuit ruling declaring the insertion of “under God” into the pledge by the U.S. Congress is unconstitutional. In February, the Ninth Circuit panel slightly revised its ruling, saying the ruling did not apply to the adoption of the Pledge of Allegiance in toto, but only to its use in a public school setting.

Our amicus brief noted that more than 14% of the U.S. population is nonreligious, making the current pledge a religious litmus test that turns a portion of the U.S. population into outsiders and second-class citizens.

Few would have predicted that Newdow, an “atheist Dad,” would have prevailed to date in his fight.

Newdow has got it exactly right. “God” does not belong in a Pledge of Allegiance adopted by our government and recited in our public schools. And the Establishment Clause agrees with him. If religious ritual, prayer, and worship may not be imposed on schoolchildren, it should be clear why it is especially egregious to impose “God” in a patriotic pledge.

Even if there is a 4-4 tie, Newdow’s Ninth Circuit victory will hold in the Ninth Circuit states, a huge reform. The Freedom From Religion Foundation is prepared to go back to court in other appellate districts as needed, and has identified willing plaintiffs. We believe other groups will be interested in challenging the religious pledge in other appellate circuits as well.

Making Newdow’s challenge all the more intriguing is the fact that currently every justice on the court is in a personal position to remember once reciting a secular pledge. Anyone in their mid-fifties and older has personal knowledge that the Pledge of Allegiance used to be secular. Newdow’s fight is to restore the pledge, not to rewrite it.

The Sacramento school district and Attorney General John Ashcroft had urged the U.S. Supremes to revoke the Ninth Circuit ruling without opinion, or throw it out on standing.

Instead, Newdow’s case lives, and his gutsy fight to uphold the constitutional principle of the separation of church and state continues, with the Supreme Court opposition greatly crippled.

Our congratulations to Michael Newdow. This is a time for freethinkers to renew their public support for him and a restored pledge in letters to editors and public officials. Whatever happens, Newdow’s greatest victory will be educational. Now everyone in the country, not just freethinkers, knows that the original Pledge of Allegiance, like our U.S. Constitution, was godless.

Vote “yes” on this question at Wolf Blitzer’s CNN website asking if a religious pledge is unconstitutional. So far, supporters of state/church separation are losing pretty heavily.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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