Pledged to Go On and On and On

It would be easy to say that Michael Newdow is back. But the truth is that the famous atheist who put the Pledge of Allegiance on the constitutional ropes a few years ago never really left. The litigation, the one that made it to the United States Supreme Court in 2004, and generated a procedural ruling there that ended the national debate on the subject, is still alive and now back before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Why? Because a federal trial court judge ruled that the original appellate court ruling still has prececential value over people within its jurisdiction despite the pronouncement by the Justices in Washington.

Apoplectic federal lawyers say the trial judge got it completely wrong; that the Supreme Court even with its limited ruling on standing grounds foreclosed in 2004 the possibility that lower courts could block the Pledge from being recited. And the feds are reminding the appeals court judges that no fewer than three Justices declared in 2004 that they would have upheld the Pledge with or without the standing issue. The problem for the government is that one of those Justices (O'Connor) has retired and the other (Rehnquist) is dead.

The trial judge in California ruled last September that ban against the Pledge was still valid, at least within the 9th Circuit's jurisdiction, because the Supreme Court never specifically ruled that the 9th Circuit's interpretation of first amendment law was wrong. My best guess? The 9th Circuit won't stick its collective head out again and will reject the lower court's view of the power of the initial ruling. But if it does, if we see Newdow II (actually, it might be called Newdow III or Newdow IV given how many iterations there have been in this case), then the newly-formed Roberts' Court will face an early and big test of its legal talents and political acumen.

Meanwhile, it is important to remember as you follow this dispute that the words "under God" were not part of the original Pledge . They were added during the height of the Cold War, in 1954, at the request of the Knights of Columbus and with the permission of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who figured the inclusion of the words would send a strong message to godless communists. So while the words may have obtained a secular and patriotic and ceremonial meaning over the past half century they certainly weren't intended to do anything more than send a religious signal to the rest of the world.

By  |  June 7, 2006; 3:00 PM ET
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Comments

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Well, maybe they'll get it right one of these days. I've always been mystified about the meaning of a pledge of allegiance that's mandatory. Then there's the stupidity of having to pledge that it's a country under a god I don't even believe in. What kind of putz thinks that makes sense?

I've never said the words "under god" in more than forty years, and never will say them. If a bunch of religious zealots feel like that should be left in the pledge, I think they should go find a nice theocracy to live in.

Posted by: Cujo359 | June 7, 2006 11:02 PM

I'm not offended by "under God", since there's no religious tone to it (does it define a Christian/Muslim/Jewish God? No). So, to me, it doesn't cross over as any religion forcing it's religion down anyone's throats.

Atheists can soon elect not to mouth "under God", as they can elect not to bow their head in prayer (I don't, but I don't go around forcing the religious to confirm to my beliefs, either). If it rankles some religious folks, they just have to live with the fact people aren't going to agree with their religion.

There's more important issues to use ammo upon, and this isn't one of them (for it won't stop at "under God", nor strictly about separation of religion from State, it's an agenda as financed and pushed as the religious ones).

Two wrongs don't make a right.

SandyK

Posted by: SandyK | June 9, 2006 10:20 AM

There are many religions that don't believe in a single god. Buddhists and pagans come to mind. Just saying "under god" makes a judgement that is counter to their religions. Are they, too, welcome to not mouth that part of a "pledge" that they don't believe in? Can I also not pledge that it is "one nation", or "indivisible", or "liberty and justice for all". Maybe I only want it to be indivisible, but I don't think justice for all is a good idea. Actually, that seems like how it really is these days.

Either don't have a pledge, or make it something that covers all Americans, not just the ones who believe in a monotheistic religion.

Posted by: Cujo359 | June 9, 2006 01:16 PM

Michael Newdow is a very smart person that has many ideas for his own causes. The bible says that man will never be able to solve the toughest issues through his own intelligence (Galatians 1:9). I'm sure that many people even find this offensive, but it is still pertinent. It shows that Newdow will not be able to get his mission accomplished. There will just be more money wasted, and complaining. Enough alrealdy!

Posted by: Jay B | June 17, 2006 02:58 AM

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