Posted 11:22pm April 4
by Melissa Kronfeld
U-WIRE Washington Bureau
Michael Newdow has become an American hero and an American villain. Newdow is the atheist physician turned lawyer who has brought the pledge of allegiance case to the Supreme Court. Having just recently been accepted by the Supreme Court Bar, Newdow’s request for “representation prose” was approved and he has spent the past week arguing personally his case in the nation’s highest court.
Newdow is attacking the phrase “under God” in the pledge of allegiance. In his defense, Newdow probed the court asking, “How many people here believe Jesus rose from the dead? How many people here believe Jesus didn’t rise from the dead? There are two positions here, and the government chose one of them.
Newdow’s greatest concern is the indoctrination of America’s youth. It is his belief that an explicit declaration of belief in a higher being disallows his daughter from developing her own system of belief.
Arguing on the other side, Bush administration lawyer Theodore Olson has argued that the pledge is a reflection of America’s religious heritage.
“It is an acknowledgment of the religious basis of the framers of the Constitution, who believed not only that the right to revolt, but that the right to vest power in the people to create a government … came as a result of religious principles.”
Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has espoused a similar argument as Olson. She and other justices have also made an effort to point out the many reference to God that are taken for granted every day, including the statement “In God we Trust” on the U.S. currency and the proclamation of “in the year of our Lord” on official documents.
The girl’s mother, Sandra Banning, who never married Newdow and retains full custody over the publicly unnamed child, opposes his claims. As a born-again Christian, Banning has no qualms with the common invocation of God in daily American life.
“I hope and pray that they will support our history, the traditions of our nations and the values that we hold dear,” she said. “We should be proud of our heritage and proud of our history and not succumb to popular culture.”
The issue has rallied supporters to both sides of the argument. A recent Associated Press poll discovered that nine out of ten Americans approve of the declaration “under God” in the pledge. And on March 20th, the House adopted a resolution backing the validity of the pledge. Protestors outside the courthouse stand and repeat the pledge for hours, emphasizing “under God” every time. But supportive spectators in the court room loudly applaud Newdow’s efforts.
Despite the fact that the court has already passed a ruling that would excuse children from declaring “under God” when reciting the pledge, Newdow continues to pursue his case which he had brought to the legal system in March 2000. Because California law requires all state schools to lead their students in a mandatory pledge of allegiance before classes commence, Newdow perceives the regulation as unconstitutional and offensive, and as close to school prayer as actual prayer service are.
A primary concern in this case has come with the recusal of Justice Antonin Scalia, who has previously made comments in a speech about the legitimacy of invoking God in the pledge. This could lead to a 4-4 split decision that could lead to a pledge of allegiance ban in 9th District California schools, which could eventually lead to a nation-wide ban.
The pledge, which was written by Baptist minister Francis Bellamy in 1892, was not enacted into law until 1942. The pledge did not originally contain the phrase “under God,” which was added in 1954, during the height of Cold War patriotic fervor.