An allegiance to the pledge

By on October 23, 2003

The Supreme Court this term will take up another in a series of politically-charged cases, continuing a trend that began in earnest last year. In June, the Court struck down the University of Michigan’s racial preference quota system for undergraduate admissions.

Around the same time, the Court threw out Texas sodomy laws prohibiting homosexuals from having sex. This time, the Court takes up a ridiculous challenge to the presence of the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance.

A bit of background: In 2002, California atheist Michael Newdow challenged the daily beginning-of-school ritual of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance on the grounds that his daughter was being subjected to government-sponsored religion. The reason? She was being forced to say the Pledge with the words “under God” in it.

The phrase, added to the Pledge amid the “Red Scare” and a flurry of fear over godless Communists, has now sparked even more of a debate after the liberal 9th-Circuit Court of Appeals foolishly upheld Newdow’s claim.

It is always worth pointing out that this activist court is overturned by the Supreme Court nearly 75% of the time.

This latest bit in a nationwide crusade to remove any mention of God from public life is utterly baseless and absurd. Only the fanatic secularists in this country, Newdow included, feel that the phrase “under God” is any more than a ceremonial mention of a higher being. Similar non-denominational, passing references appear everywhere, including in the Declaration of Independence.

A victory for the secularists in this case would result in challenges to “In God we Trust” on the money and the “So help you God” swearing of witnesses in courthouses. It’s very important for the Supreme Court to realize that beyond the ramifications of this particular suit, it needs to uphold the general freedom of citizens to exercise religion in public life.

The phrase “under God” makes no mention of a particular God or any reference to a specific religious denomination. On that point alone, it cannot be considered government establishment of religion. How many kids have recited the current Pledge of Allegiance since the 1950’s? Is anyone really worse off for it? Is anyone scarred for life by actually making a passing reference to God in a public setting?

Some have argued that since prayer has been outlawed in schools due to mention of religion, the Pledge as written should also be banned due to the religious reference. However, a distinction should be drawn between the recitation of a specific prayer (questionable) and the recitation of a patriotic Pledge with a small reference to a non-denominational “God” (perfectly fine).

Don’t think for one minute that this case is about Newdow’s poor daughter, either. She is effectively being used as a pawn by an agenda-driven, God-fearing atheist who probably didn’t even have standing to sue in the first place. The state of California is currently investigating a custody battle between Newdow and the girl’s mother, who, predictably, aren’t married. If the girl should have been in the mother’s custody, Newdow would have no interest in suing on her behalf. The Supreme Court should carefully consider this little jurisdictional sideshow as well.

In another bizarre twist, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, widely regarded as the most conservative on the bench and a possible future Chief Justice, has recused himself from the case. His reason likely stems from public speeches he has given criticizing the 9th-Circuit ruling now before his Court. On January 9th, according to the Washington Post, Scalia characterized the ruling as a mistaken attempt to “exclude God from the public forums and from political life.”

Of course, these comments are completely accurate, but that’s not the point. It is general principle that Supreme Court justices not comment on impending cases, as Newdow himself pointed out in recommending Scalia’s recusal. However, Scalia’s absence raises the interesting possibility of a 4-4 tie. That scenario would allow the 9th-Circuit ruling to stand but would not establish any sort of precedent for similar cases in the future.

The interesting question is whether it’s worse for Scalia to have formed an opinion on the issue ahead of time or for him to have publicly stated this opinion. I’d vote for the latter. Though I have no way of knowing for sure, I tend to think that most of the justices go into oral arguments of most cases with some initial opinion as a form of human nature. The bigger problem here is that Scalia went public, exposing himself to criticism, and ultimately resulting in taking himself out of the picture for deciding the case.

Even without the benefit of Scalia’s presence, I and many other traditionalists hope that the Supreme Court overrules the 9th-Circuit and maintains our Pledge of Allegiance as it is currently written. So help them God.


About A. J. Atchue