March 11th, 2010
06:01 PM ET
13 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. JES

    If you don't like the Pledge of Allegiance go to a country that doesn't have one and see where you get.

    This is the greatest country in the world stop trying to change it you bums.

    March 11, 2010 08:26 pm at 8:26 pm |
  2. Brigham

    Just another reason why I work hard to send my kids to private school. You get a much better education and with like minded parents who detest these kind of distorted views on good things like the Pledge of Allegiance.

    March 11, 2010 08:32 pm at 8:32 pm |
  3. fred

    Us progressives have to stop chasing stupid issues like this ... it's the product of fake rage, if you ask me.

    March 11, 2010 08:34 pm at 8:34 pm |
  4. j

    I disagree, "Under God" was added to the Pledge as a response to communist Russia and was an endorsement of religion. Likewise – "In God We Trust" – before that E Pluribus, Unum was favored by the Founding Fathers. Many of these religious references occurred more recently (in the mid-20th century) and do not go all the way back to the founding of the country. So I would say "separation of church and state" has been violated and continues to be violated by the religious majority over the rights of the minority.

    March 11, 2010 08:39 pm at 8:39 pm |
  5. Chrissy, Tx

    Good! This country was founded on God. And then everyone wonders why this country is going to hell...its because of those idiots who want to take away what is right and moral.

    March 11, 2010 08:53 pm at 8:53 pm |
  6. Susan L.

    It is religious. Why else does it say "Under God" in the pledge? As an atheist, what the heck am I supposed to think that means? Of course it's religion. What else would it be? It may not be a specific religion, but it is religious. The social pressure thing is real, too, though I was in the vanguard back in the 70's of students refusing to say the Pledge since it was compulsory back then. My daughter can recite it or not as she pleases and I'm glad we've at least come that far. But why not at least remove the offensive line from the Pledge? It's only been there since 1954. There is no reason to keep it there. If religious people have some need to see this as a nation Under God, I suggest they make themselves a prayer and stop trying to force the rest of us to bend to their will.

    March 11, 2010 08:55 pm at 8:55 pm |
  7. ib

    Finally some common sense in these court rulings.

    March 11, 2010 09:07 pm at 9:07 pm |
  8. Limbaugh is a liberal

    The pledge is not the problem. There are several countries in Eastern Europe that have 'God' in their national anthems even though the majority of their people are atheists. Tradition is tradition. The problem is not the pledge. The problem is the campaign by the religious right to actively demonize and marginalize all atheists, along with muslism, or even Catholics for not being main stream protestant. And they hide behind the same First Amendment that they attack: it is their freedom of speech and freedom of religion to spew hatred publicly against anyone who's not a protestant christian. And they accuse me of infringing on their freedom of religion just because I worship God in a different way? Hypocrites!

    March 11, 2010 09:23 pm at 9:23 pm |
  9. The Lady from Georgia

    IN Jesus name, Amen.

    March 11, 2010 09:51 pm at 9:51 pm |
  10. Atheist in Pasadena

    I'd believe in god... but I have thoughts. And thoughts kinda mess up that whole faith thing...

    March 11, 2010 10:30 pm at 10:30 pm |
  11. Terry From West Texas

    The "Under God" phrase was added to the Pledge in the fifties. I am not particularly religious, but I don't find the phrase to be particularly meaningful. I personally don't use the phrase when I am reciting the Pledge. "God" is just a word. It doesn't mean anything. More precisely, it means 10,000 different things. No two believers can agree on what it means or what it refers to. It's like "In God We Trust." No theology is articulated by that meaningless old phrase.

    We say a lot of meaningless stuff. Marriage vows to stay with each other until "death do us part" is a pretty meaningless phrase in a nation where a majority of marriages fail, but I said it myself in both of my marriages.

    March 11, 2010 10:44 pm at 10:44 pm |
  12. New Age Independant

    It's a sad day when a court has to decide that it's ok to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in our schools. This is what liberals have done to our great country.

    March 11, 2010 10:46 pm at 10:46 pm |
  13. will

    Ya know, the next thing that atheists will try to do in the public schools system is to ban the reading of the Declaration of Independence, because in the Declaration of Independence, there is wording that specifically states, " We are endowed by our CREATOR by inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. My Question for these atheist is this, W?HO IS THE CREATOR

    March 11, 2010 10:51 pm at 10:51 pm |
  14. Donna

    I agree with findings. If u want to teach yr children against God and country...then take yr children out of school and home school them, this is USA and in God we trust!

    March 11, 2010 11:15 pm at 11:15 pm |
  15. Kent in CA

    The flaw in this whole discussion is that the Republic needs to EARN our allegience. To ask a child to blindly pledge allegience to a political entity that he can not possibly understand is contrary to everything this nation stands for. This is no different than requiring every member of the German military to blindly swear an oath to obey Adolf Hitler. A child who faces ridicule (and even physical abuse) at the hands of his peers if he declines to participate in this ridiculous nationalistic ritual is a victim of the most hateful of predjudices. We need to teach our children to stand on principle, not thoughtless pledges of allegience. If the flag deserves it, honor it. But salute it not just because a person in authority (eg: a teacher) tells you to.

    March 11, 2010 11:58 pm at 11:58 pm |
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