March 11th, 2010
06:01 PM ET
5 years ago

Court clears reciting of Pledge of Allegiance at Western schools

Washington (CNN) - Public schools in Western states can continue teacher-led reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance, after a federal court ruled against a group of atheist parents.

The San Francisco-based 9th Circuit U-S Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 Thursday that the pledge does not represent a government endorsement of religion, prohibited by the Constitution.

"The Pledge of Allegiance serves to unite our vast nation through the proud recitation of some of the ideals upon which our republic was founded and for which we continue to strive: one Nation under God," wrote the majority. "Millions of people daily recite these words when pledging allegiance to the United States of America."

The ruling applies only to the 11 states and territories in the West covered by the 9th Circuit, but it reinforces other rulings from other courts upholding the pledge. The same appeals court also ruled separately Thursday, upholding the use of the words "In God We Trust" on U.S. money.

The lawsuit was brought by several Sacramento-area parents who objected to the school policy.

Among them is Michael Newdow, a prominent attorney and atheist, who had brought his long-standing dispute to the Supreme Court in 2004. The justices had dismissed that earlier appeal on purely technical grounds, over questions he lacking standing as a custodial parent to bring the lawsuit on behalf of his school-age daughter. Newdow then recruited other parents into the current case.

A woman identified only as Jan Roe was a key plaintiff, arguing she did not believe in God. She claimed the daily recitation interfered with her right to direct her child's upbringing and that it indoctrinated her child with the belief that God exists.

Children are not required to stand and repeat the pledge, but some parents said the social pressures to conform were an improper infringement of their rights. The plaintiffs now have the option of asking the Supreme Court to hear the case.

The appeals court framed the issue as a dispute over whether was a traditional patriotic exercise or a blatant religious message. The same court in 2002 agreed with Newdow and other atheist parents.

In dissent to Thursday's ruling, Judge Stephen Reinhardt said the pledge was an overtly religious message.

"Carrying out such an indoctrination in a public school classroom unconstitutionally forces many young children either to profess a religious belief antithetical to their personal views or to declare themselves through their silence or nonparticipation to be protesting nonbelievers, thereby subjecting themselves to hostility and ridicule," he wrote.

The Supreme Court has previously ruled the mere mention of God or religion by the government in a public setting does not necessarily mean a violation of the "Establishment Clause" of the Constitution, which ensures the separation of church and state.

Examples that have met high court scrutiny include Ten Commandments or Chanukah menorah displays in a public park; opening a legislative session with a prayer; granting tax breaks for religious organizations; and reimbursing transportation costs for parents whose end their children to parochial schools.

The pledge was written in 1892 by Baptist minister and educator Francis Bellamy, who made no reference to religion in his version. It was originally worded: "I pledge allegiance to my flag and the republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." It quickly became a part of public school programs.

In 1954, Congress added the words "under God," at the urging of the Knights of Columbus and other groups. Another modification was to change "my flag" to "the flag of the United States of America."

"This decision is a victory for common sense," Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson of the Knights of Columbus said in a news release. "Today, the court got it absolutely right: recitation of the pledge is a patriotic exercise, not a religious prayer. ... Every reasonable person knows that, and today's decision is a breath of fresh air from a court system that has too often seemed to be almost allergic to public references to God."

The case is Newdow v. Rio Linda Union School District (05-17257).


Filed under: Pledge of Allegiance
soundoff (40 Responses)
  1. Four and the Door

    The far left is not getting too much to add to the WIN column here lately. It's about time. ( really...a lawsuit against the Pledge of Allegiance?!?! What next, a Restraining Order on flying the flag? )

    March 11, 2010 06:09 pm at 6:09 pm |
  2. chris l

    Nice to see Americans win out over the Radicals

    March 11, 2010 06:14 pm at 6:14 pm |
  3. Joe

    Which God?

    March 11, 2010 06:15 pm at 6:15 pm |
  4. Get Real

    It's about time

    March 11, 2010 06:20 pm at 6:20 pm |
  5. tim

    "This decision is a victory for common sense," Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson of the Knights of Columbus said in a news release. "Today, the court got it absolutely right: recitation of the pledge is a patriotic exercise, not a religious prayer. ... Every reasonable person knows that, and today's decision is a breath of fresh air from a court system that has too often seemed to be almost allergic to public references to God."

    Then take out the references to god. If it's patriotic, you don't need them.

    t

    March 11, 2010 06:27 pm at 6:27 pm |
  6. How are you paying for it???

    Forget the atheists.......

    Don't care what they think.

    They can leave this Judo-Christian country if they don't like it.

    March 11, 2010 06:28 pm at 6:28 pm |
  7. Travis In Colorado

    Amen and Hallelujiah! The pledge is not a prayer but an exercise. It is a reminder of what this country was founded on. I could not be happier! I am so tired of hearing from cry baby athiests crying about this, I hope they finally shut up about it.

    March 11, 2010 06:28 pm at 6:28 pm |
  8. Under god....

    When I say it, I say "there is no god..."

    March 11, 2010 06:35 pm at 6:35 pm |
  9. Sniffit

    Indeed...this suit was a good example of both sides of most issues having nutjob extremists who don't understand the value of making rational arguments....it's not just the right wing (altho they've apparently decided to lead the band at the moment).

    March 11, 2010 06:38 pm at 6:38 pm |
  10. Lolitina

    I'd prefer we just go back to the original Pledge and be done with it. Religion WAS the reason to put "under God" into the text, led by the Knights of Columbus (a Catholic group). It was done to thumb our collective noses at the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War by "proving" how "Christian" we supposedly are.

    March 11, 2010 06:38 pm at 6:38 pm |
  11. Paul H

    Good! It's nice to see that we are still a Nation that protects these things. If you don't want your kid to recite the "Pledge of Allegiance" then let the teachers know that they are to sit, or leave the room during this activity. But don't stop the majority from doing something that is a tradition to many, and a joy as well! This country is founded on the freedoms that the flag represents, including the freedom of religion. Which in turn means the freedom to be an atheist.
    The freedom to express yourself like this country tolerates is unheard of in many country's. If we allow something as small as this to be taken away from us, then there will be no stopping them from taking other freedoms.

    March 11, 2010 06:39 pm at 6:39 pm |
  12. Donnatella

    Thank god, if they don't want their kids to say it, take them out and put them in another school

    March 11, 2010 06:40 pm at 6:40 pm |
  13. Alan Deming

    The phrase "under God", was favorable in a 1954 Congress that saw the addition as a good anti-Communist measure. Why not leave it as the Baptist minister originally wrote it, possibly retaining "the flag of the United States of America" for clarity? This would possibly be more in the spirit of the Founders.

    March 11, 2010 06:41 pm at 6:41 pm |
  14. Marc

    "The Pledge of Allegiance serves to unite our vast nation through the proud recitation of some of the ideals upon which our republic was founded and for which we continue to strive: one Nation under God," wrote the majority. "Millions of people daily recite these words when pledging allegiance to the United States of America."

    Actually the 'under God' bit was added at the beggining of the Cold War against the Soviets and other communists. For over oner century and a half it wasn't there.
    So if the majority is declaring that they decided based on a false assumption.
    Not a fact.

    March 11, 2010 06:48 pm at 6:48 pm |
  15. jeff jackson, alabama

    How low of a percentage of Americans are athiest ?
    It's ridiculous how much press these nuts get !

    March 11, 2010 06:50 pm at 6:50 pm |
  16. T'SAH from Virginia

    African Americans once DID NOT Pledge to the Allegiance because we complained about the '...liberty and justice for all" section. We were reprimanded and/or forced to stand and sometimes suspended from school. Finally, we were allowed not to pledge. MY POINT: 'liberty and justice for all" is still in the pledge and some today still take or leave it!!

    The PLEDGE should continue and those who do not want to recide "...one nation, under God..." should NOT say it!! Case and POINT!!

    March 11, 2010 06:54 pm at 6:54 pm |
  17. Willy Brown

    atheist parents SHUT UP!

    March 11, 2010 07:00 pm at 7:00 pm |
  18. oldpledge

    Why not remove the "under god" that was inserted during President Eisenhower's term. We are after all we are "one nation indivisible" with liberty and justice for all.

    March 11, 2010 07:08 pm at 7:08 pm |
  19. GM

    In 1954 did anyone ask why we should add the words "under God" if even without these words the pledge satisfied the function of "patriotic exercise" anyway? What changed suddenly in 1954 that only if we use the words "under God" we will be patriotic? Did they invent God in 1954? Sorry, did they invent God IN THE US (patriotic) in 1954?

    Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus says: "Today, the court got it absolutely right: recitation of the pledge is a patriotic exercise, not a religious prayer"
    My question would be.. if it is not a religious prayer and only a patriotic exercise then why invoking the name of God?

    I am a religious man. But the last thing I want to do is to impose my beliefs on someone.

    March 11, 2010 07:14 pm at 7:14 pm |
  20. I WANT MINES

    IS GOD AN ILLEGAL IMMIGRANT? WHY should our kids be made to pledge to the flag? why cant they just worship obama like the left wing does

    March 11, 2010 07:20 pm at 7:20 pm |
  21. lolly

    we need to get rid of activist christuan judges

    March 11, 2010 07:42 pm at 7:42 pm |
  22. Anonymous

    Somebody wake me up! A sensible ruling from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals? In the healthcare debate, liberals complain how the minority (the GOP) is forcing itself on the majority (the Dems). The same should apply here. A hand full of athests almost took the Pledge away from those of us who do! I applaud this ruling. It should have been 3-0 but 2-1 will work! Thank God!

    March 11, 2010 08:09 pm at 8:09 pm |
  23. Mike, formerly from Syracuse

    No doubt Obama will want to nominate the one judge who voted against the Pledge as his next Supreme Court nominee.

    March 11, 2010 08:12 pm at 8:12 pm |
  24. Matt Cichy

    I believe in God but also that our government is not the place where God's battle needs to be one. That concept to me, is a sign of weakness on the church's part. Whether God is believed in or not, God the entity, and/or the concept "one Nation under God", is not an ideal. There is absolutely no behavior, specifically a morally tangible behavior, that can be attributed to the word "God" or the phrase "one nation under God". The Bible presents moral behavior through it's teachings, however, not all Americans are exposed to it and for one good reason, there is seperation between Church and State. I, as well all of his followers would never think it capable to be Godlike (that concept actually is the Christian antithesis), however I could still strive to be a better behaved American/person. Now I ask you this, are the people who do not have God in thier life, yet conduct themselves morally better than those who do, not as patriotic... or idealistic? Get God and anything religous out of our government now, before the Muslims realize how corrupt our politicians are, and start start buying the Muslim name into it. I'd rather have God and Allah fighting on the corner where everyone can see it, tax free (suckers!) and all.

    March 11, 2010 08:16 pm at 8:16 pm |
  25. m smith

    Gee now what will they have to write aboutnow? If we can say the pledge and have In God we Trust on our money the tea baggers will have to find something else that the presidentand the left has done wrong. Arent the democrats suppose to be against having in God we trust on our money , That was the E mail going around but the dummies didn't look on the edges.

    March 11, 2010 08:23 pm at 8:23 pm |
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