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Plundering the Pledge: Newdow v. U.S. Congress

Phyllis Schlafly recently wrote that, the atheists' "attempt to eliminate 'under God' from the Pledge of Allegiance now looks like a legal boomerang." The U. S. Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments on appeal from the Ninth Circuit, where a three-judge panel in 2002 voted 2-1 to throw out the Pledge. On a petition for re-hearing in 2003, six sensible judges in the Ninth Circuit voted for the rehearing, but were out-voted by a larger group of Ninth Circuit members. The Sensible Six made several compelling arguments against the majority's plundering of the Pledge. These arguments have application in virtually every area of social policy debate today.

  1. This case should never have been heard because plaintiff Michael Newdow had no true "case or controversy," which Article III of the Constitution requires before a court hears an issue. Newdow claimed that he was offended by "under God" in the Pledge. Said the Sensible Six, "[in] a society as diverse as ours, . . . almost every cultural practice is bound to offend someone's sensibilities. The original two pro-Newdow judges afforded Newdow "the right to impose his view on others, . . . [and gave him] a right to be fastidiously intolerant and self-indulgent." His alleged feelings of "discomfort and isolation" are therefore "simply shifted . . . from one group [i.e., atheists] to another [i.e., the 87% of Americans who support the phrase 'under God']."

  2. The Pledge is an act of patriotism, not of prayer. Several U. S. Supreme Court decisions explicitly refer to the Pledge as constitutional. The rejection of "under God" "precipitates 'a war with our national tradition,'" argued the Sensible Six. Indeed, judicial invalidation of the Pledge would foster—perhaps require—the invalidation of the Constitution and National Anthem, as well as numerous other documents and civic statements acknowledging God in our national life.

  3. Acknowledgements of God do not per se violate the Constitution. In a 1992 Seventh Circuit opinion upholding the Pledge with "under God" in it, Judge Manion wrote that "a civic reference to God does not become permissible . . . only when . . . it is sapped of religious significance." "[W]e need not drain the meaning from the reference [to God in the Pledge] to reach this conclusion."

  4. The Ninth Circuit's voiding of the Pledge is itself a violation of the Establishment Clause. As the Sensible Six observed, the anti-Pledge ruling of their colleagues, "confer[red] a favored status on atheism in our public life. . . . . The silence the majority commands is not neutral . . . . The absolute prohibition on any mention of God in our schools creates a bias against religion. . . . . One wonders, then, does atheism become the default religion protected by the Establishment Clause?"

  5. The continued inclusion of "under God" in the Pledge in no way suppresses anyone's religious beliefs or threatens the "pluralism" to which the Newdows of America profess such fervent allegiance. The phrase "under God" was added to the Pledge in 1954. During these 50 years that Americans have been reciting "under God," America has simultaneously experienced the greatest explosion of "diversity" and "pluralism" in its history.

May we pray that the Supreme Court will uphold the Constitution in this case and reverse the Ninth Circuit's plundering of the Pledge. Failing this, we, the People, must act through Congress, the White House, and the election process.

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