Allegiance to God row reaches US Supreme Court

By staff writers
March 25, 2004

-25/3/04

A petition has reached the US Supreme Court for the removal of the words "under God" from the pledge of allegiance recited every morning by American schoolchildren.

Millions of US schoolchildren "pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all," before lessons every morning.

The words "under God" were added to the ritual in the 1950s, part of a Cold War campaign to contrast American values with those of the communist bloc.

According to a recent Associated Press opinion poll, nearly nine in 10 Americans support keeping the reference to God in the pledge, but Michael Newdow, the father of a nine-year-old girl, cites the constitutional ban on state-established religion to support his case.

President George W Bush dismissed the argument as "ridiculous" when it was first made public and many on the Christian Right see the Newdow case as another in a long line of assaults on religion and America's traditional way of life.

Gary Bauer, a well known figure on the religious Right, also links the issue to the 'War on Terror' believing that pledging allegience to God will invoke divine help. "Kicking the Pledge of Allegiance out of the schools because of the words 'under God' is the last thing we should be contemplating in the middle of a terrorist war, where more than ever we need God's protection," Bauer says.

But the case, argued in front of America's highest court by Mr Newdow, soon became locked in argument, not over the separation of church and state, but the respective rights of a father and mother over their child.

Observers say the justices seem divided over whether Newdow, as a non-custodial parent, has standing to bring the lawsuit

The court must decide not just whether the pledge is a patriotic or religious act but also whether Mr Newdow can legally represent his daughter's interests when he only shares custody of her with her "born again" mother.

Sandy Banning opposed the father's campaign and was worried that their child, whose identity has not been made public, had been "thrust into the vortex of this constitutional case", Theodore Olson, the solicitor-general, argued.

Mr Newdow, a Sacramento doctor, sued his daughter's school in an effort to prevent her saying the pledge and then won an appeal heard by a California court.

Armed with a law degree, he is arguing the case in the Supreme Court on his own without the help of professional lawyers.

The pledge of allegiance is "indoctrinating children", he told the judges. "The government is supposed to stay out of religion."

He later clashed with the chief justice, William Rehnquist, telling him that the phrase "under God" was not divisive only "because no atheists can be elected to office".

-25/3/04

A petition has reached the US Supreme Court for the removal of the words "under God" from the pledge of allegiance recited every morning by American schoolchildren.

Millions of US schoolchildren "pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all," before lessons every morning.

The words "under God" were added to the ritual in the 1950s, part of a Cold War campaign to contrast American values with those of the communist bloc.

According to a recent Associated Press opinion poll, nearly nine in 10 Americans support keeping the reference to God in the pledge, but Michael Newdow, the father of a nine-year-old girl, cites the constitutional ban on state-established religion to support his case.

President George W Bush dismissed the argument as "ridiculous" when it was first made public and many on the Christian Right see the Newdow case as another in a long line of assaults on religion and America's traditional way of life.

Gary Bauer, a well known figure on the religious Right, also links the issue to the 'War on Terror' believing that pledging allegience to God will invoke divine help. "Kicking the Pledge of Allegiance out of the schools because of the words 'under God' is the last thing we should be contemplating in the middle of a terrorist war, where more than ever we need God's protection," Bauer says.

But the case, argued in front of America's highest court by Mr Newdow, soon became locked in argument, not over the separation of church and state, but the respective rights of a father and mother over their child.

Observers say the justices seem divided over whether Newdow, as a non-custodial parent, has standing to bring the lawsuit

The court must decide not just whether the pledge is a patriotic or religious act but also whether Mr Newdow can legally represent his daughter's interests when he only shares custody of her with her "born again" mother.

Sandy Banning opposed the father's campaign and was worried that their child, whose identity has not been made public, had been "thrust into the vortex of this constitutional case", Theodore Olson, the solicitor-general, argued.

Mr Newdow, a Sacramento doctor, sued his daughter's school in an effort to prevent her saying the pledge and then won an appeal heard by a California court.

Armed with a law degree, he is arguing the case in the Supreme Court on his own without the help of professional lawyers.

The pledge of allegiance is "indoctrinating children", he told the judges. "The government is supposed to stay out of religion."

He later clashed with the chief justice, William Rehnquist, telling him that the phrase "under God" was not divisive only "because no atheists can be elected to office".

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