The Pledge of Allegiance:
"I 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."
1st Amendment to the United States Constitution:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or
prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech,
or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to
petition the government for a redress of grievances."
In 1954 a federal statute added the phrase "under God" to the by then well established version of the Pledge of Allegiance. Thereafter, recitation of ‘The Pledge’ at the beginning of each school day became a common practice in American public school systems.
In June 2002 a 3-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that "(1) the 1954 Act adding the words ‘under God’ to the Pledge, and (2) [the Elk Grove School District's] policy and practice of teacher-led recitation of the Pledge, with the added words included, violate the Establishment Clause [of the Constitution]". (Newdow v. Elk Grove Unified School District)
In response to that decision Kent Snyder, the Executive Director of the Liberty Committee, published a statement from which the following is excerpted:
June 26, 2002
"Dear liberty activist,"
"A wayward federal appeals court ruled today that reciting the Pledge of Allegiance
in public schools in [sic] unconstitutional. For decades, federal judges have warped,
shredded and outright ignored the Constitution of the United States."
"Liberty Caucus member Roscoe Bartlett put it well: `Today's decision by
the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is a ludicrous and factually inaccurate misinterpretation
of the establishment clause of the First Amendment. Every one of our founders is turning
over in their grave. . . .´"
The Elk Grove School District appealed the decision to the US Supreme Court which, in June 2004, refused to hear the case stating that Michael Newdow "[lacked] standing to bring this suit in federal court."
Dr. Newdow, a Sacramento, California emergency room doctor who also holds a law degree from the University of Michigan, refiled his suit in January 2005 on behalf of himself, his daughter and two sets of parents and their children.
On 14 September 2005 U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence K. Karlton again denied Dr. Newdow's standing. However, he affirmed the standing of the new plaintiffs who were represented by Dr. Newdow. Bound by the 9th Circuit's previous ruling, Judge Karlton once again held "that the school district's policy with regard to the pledge is an unconstitutional violation of the children's right to be free from a coercive requirement to affirm God. . .. [T]he school districts' policies violate the Establishment Clause."
Once again conservative reaction was swift and predictable. It ranged from disgust to outrage to Fox News' John Gibson's paroxysmal sputterings during his interview with the soft-spoken and articulate Dr. Newdow. (Judging from Gibson's reaction during that interview, viewers might have thought that Dr. Newdow was advocating the legalization of pedophilia.)
Randy Thomasson, President of Campaign for Children and Families, a religious liberties group, said:
"When the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals delivered the craziest ruling in American history by striking down the Pledge of Allegiance three years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in and stopped the insanity. The lower courts striking down the pledge again is like a dog returning to its vomit." [Maura Dolan, Los Angeles Times, September 15, 2005 pg. B.1; the full text of Thomasson's statement is available on the CCF website]
One wonders whether such reactions are the result of ignorance, or of something worse -- a willful disregard of the facts, a self-imposed blindness to the truth. In 1954 their intellectual predecessors turned a long-established expression of national pride and patriotism into a government endorsed religious affirmation, thereby violating the establishment clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.