One Nation Under God?

By: Nancy Weiner
By: Nancy Weiner

A case before the U.S. Supreme Court involves the Pledge of Allegiance and whether the First Amendment allows public schools to include the words ''under God'' when students recite the pledge.

As demonstrators on both sides of this controversial case clashed outside the Supreme Court, Michael Newdow, an atheist, ER doctor and non-practicing attorney, made his case before the justices.

Newdow argued that the words "under God" should be removed from the Pledge of Allegiance recited every morning at his nine-year-old daughter's California school.

Solicitor General Ted Olson, arguing on behalf of the U.S. government, called the pledge a "ceremonial, patriotic exercise", not a religious one.

Chief Justice William Rehnquist seemed to agree, noting that in 1954 Congress unanimously voted to add the words "under God" to the then-62-year-old pledge.

"That doesn't sound divisive," said Rehnquist.

"That's only because no atheists can be elected to office," Newdow retorted.

At that point, some spectators broke into applause in the normally solemn chamber. Chief Justice Rehnquist threatened to expel the spectators.

The justices went back and forth on whether Newdow even has the right to bring a suit that involves his daughter. The girl's mother, who has primary custody, is a born-again Christian who says she wants her daughter to recite the pledge as is.

"I hope and pray they will support our history, our tradition, our values that we hold dear," said Sandra Banning.

One of the most conservative justices, Antonin Scalia, recused himself from the case because he spoke out against a lower court ruling that sided with Newdow.

That means only eight justices will weigh in on the future of the Pledge of Allegiance. The court's decision will be handed down sometime before its June recess.


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