Wednesday, March 24, 2004

ONE NATION UNDER GOD. Today the Supreme Court hears the pledge of allegiance case. Michael Newdow, an atheist, filed suit in California to prevent the school district from requiring his daughter to say the pledge of allegiance because of the “under God” phrase. Never mind that his daughter is happy to say it and that she does not even live with Newdow.

The case is Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow. Mr. Newdow has won the previous rounds. It is the continuing and successful effort of atheists and humanists to strip all religious reference from American society. Then we can be like the Godless French. God forbid.

The phrase “under God” was not in the original pledge. It was added in 1954. The most recent AP poll show 9 out of 10 Americans want to retain the phrase in the pledge. The same poll shows more Democrats want it out than Republicans, by the way.

There are two questions before the court. The first is standing, that is, does Mr. Newdow have the right to bring this suit even though he has little to do with his daughter and her mother has all the court ordered rights concerning her education. Her mother, by the way, is Sandra Banning, a born again Christian who also wants her daughter to recite the pledge “as is”.

The second issue is whether the phrase “under God” violates the establishment clause of the Constitution.

I do not think it looks good for the home team. The Court has gone far to strip anything Christian from public life. It has pulled back some over the last two years, but this is a big one. Additionally, a sure vote for the phrase is lost as Justice Scalia recused himself due to his earlier criticism of the court of appeals decision.

The Court could take the easy way out and rule that Mr. Newdow does not have standing. A good argument could be made for that, but it would be perceived as the cowards way out. The Court will also feel the pressure of public opinion, which is overwhelmingly in favor of the current pledge.

The third alternative is the Court could uphold the pledge by holding that it no longer carries a religious message. That, in fact, is the argument of some of the parties who have filed amicus briefs. This is the stance taken by the American Jewish Congress, which has filed a brief in support of the pledge. I am glad the support the phrase and have often argued that Jews should join conservative Christians in upholding our traditional values and beliefs. However, the first point of the brief states that the once religious practice has transformed into a secular practice. This is the same argument used in some of the Ten Commandment cases and manger scene cases.

This is a bad argument. If we win the battle to keep God in society by saying he no longer means anything, we have won the battle and lost the war. It is just a different approach to secularism.
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