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Pledge of Allegiance Under Fire Again

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• The History of the Pledge of Allegiance
Text of the Pledge of Allegiance

Noted atheist Michael Newdow, who lost a fight last year to get the words "under God" out of the Pledge of Allegiance, has filed suit again, this time on behalf of eight other people.

The Supreme Court heard the case last summer and ruled not that the words could stay in the Pledge but that Newdow had no standing to sue because he was not the legal guardian of his daughter, whom he believed was being harmed by having to say the entire Pledge, including the words "under God." Newdow's wife, also the mother of their child, objected to the case.

The term "standing to sue" has its origins in Article III of the Constitution: A person who is suing someone else or something must demonstrate, at an "irreducible minimum," that: "(1) he/she has suffered a distinct and palpable injury as a result of the putatively illegal conduct of the defendant; (2) the injury is fairly traceable to the challenged conduct; and (3) it is likely to be redressed if the requested relief is granted."

What this all means in plain language is this: The person who is suing must demonstrate that he or she has been significantly harmed by whoever or whatever he or she is suing, that the harm was done by only that person or thing, and that if that person or thing is removed, then the person who is suing will suffer no further.

The eight people who are named as being harmed in the latest lawsuit are all students or parents, all of whom have legal standing to sue. Newdow is their lawyer.

The case came to the Court by way of a 2003 decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that the appearance of the words "under God" meant that the government was sponsoring a religion, something that lawyers argued—and the Appeals Court agreed with—violates the First Amendment's mandate of a separation of church and state, meaning that the government will not list one religion as an "official" one.

The Supreme Court has not decided whether the words "under God" are doing anyone harm by remaining in the Pledge of Allegiance. The Court has, in the past, ruled that schoolchildren cannot be required to say the Pledge.

But in arguments in the case last summer, three Justices went on record as saying that they would have voted to keep the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. (It is possible that other Justices privately believe this; only the public statements of the three who spoke out are available.) Another Justice is known to have spoken out against the lawsuit. The Justices who have spoken out say that they interpret the words "under God" in the Pledge the same way they see the words "In God We Trust" on all of the nation's dollars and coincs—more an observance of the nation's history than of any one religion.

The latest attempt by Newdow to wrest the "offending words" from the Pledge of Allegiance was filed in a California District Court, which has not set a schedule for hearing the case. No matter what happens in that case, it will likely be appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, the same group of judges who ruled in 2003 that the words violated the First Amendment. Whether the Appeals Court judges will vote the same way if they know that the Supreme Court is likely to reverse their decision is not known.

Graphics courtesy of ClipArt.com

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