If I have all of my facts correct, Michael Newdow, is the name of a non-custodial parent of a minor child that attended a public elementary school and filed suit on her behalf. He alleged because the Pledge of Allegiance contains the words, “under God” it constitutes religious indoctrination when it is recited. Despite his daughter not having to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in school, Newdow believed his daughter still participated, because she still had to stand and hear it being recited by other students.
Newdow wanted to ban the pledge completely from the school. This would have impacted other schools as well with a trickle effect. At the time of the issue, Newdow was also in a protracted custody fight with his daughter’s mother who had primary custody and so he filed as, “next friend”. The case of requiring his daughter to participate in reciting the Pledge was not being contested at all by Newdow. Newdow in fact acknowledged that his daughter was not compelled by the school district or the teacher to participate.
In fact, this case regarding participation was visited in the case of West Virginia v. Burnett, in 1943. The Supreme Court prohibited the requirement for student participation and this occurred even before “under God” was added to the Pledge, 12 years later, in 1952. Newdow believed his daughter had a legally recognizable injury because she had to endure the daily recitation that violated her First Amendment rights. His case rested on the idea that a state-run school and a state-employed teacher led classmates in a Pledge and his daughter was obliged to watch and listen. It should be noted, that Francis Bellamy, the creator of the Pledge did want the Pledge to invoke allegiance for it was written as a response to the crisis of loyalty fresh in the nations memory right after the Civil War. The Pledge, an expression of loyalty to the United States, was composed in 1892 and formally adopted by Congress in 1942 and the words “under God” were added in 1954 on Flag Day.
Under the Flag Code, the Pledge reads:
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.
Reciting the Pledge is a way for students to fulfill the California state law requiring students to participate in ‘appropriate’ patriotic exercises. The Elk Grove Unified School District adopted the policy set forth by the state of California.
The Pledge of Allegiance has been challenged many times in history in numerous courts. It is currently being contested, (2011-present) in the Doe v. Acton-Boxborough Regional School District case in Massachusetts. The story of the courts and the Pledge was first looked at by the Supreme Court in 1940 in the Minersville School District v Gobitis ruling.
Mr. Gobitis was a recent convert to the Jehovah’s Witnesses and instructed his children not to pledge allegiance at school, regardless if they were asked or told to. The school superintendant of Gobitis’ children’s school believed a few dissenters would demoralize other children and cause widespread disregard for the flag and American values. It had two defeats in lower courts and was taken to the Supreme Court whereupon the Court stated that public schools could compel students to salute the American Flag and, despite their religious objections or practices, recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
The story about the Pledge was revisited in West Virginia in 1942. After the ruling, the West Virginia Legislature amended its statutes requiring all school in the state to conduct courses in civics, history and the Constitution with the purpose of teaching ideals and principles that increased respect and knowledge of the machinery of government. Any challenge to it by children would be regarded as insubordination and dealt with by expulsion. Readmission was denied unless the student complied with West Virginia statutes. The Supreme Court reversed their decision in 1943 in the West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette. The argument taken by Barnette’s counsel was that the legislature was allowed to define its own powers. Thereafter, in a 6-3 decision, the Court overturned its original Minersville School District ruling because the Court held, “it was doomed to failure and was antithetical to the values set forth in the First Amendment.” Justice Jackson, writing for the majority wrote, “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.” In one other case under the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals students were not required to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.
Going forward 50 years to the Newdow case, Justice Scalia removed himself after Newdow filed papers asking Scalia to bow out, for the justice had spoken unfavorable of the Ninth Circuit ruling. Arguments for the strengths of Newdow’s case were various. It was held that reciting the Pledge was unconstitutional because adding the words, “under God” was religious and had the effect of promoting religion, the Pledge was coercive because it placed students in the position of choosing between participating in the exercise or protesting it, and lastly the rights of the parents to instill atheistic values in their children are denied when children are to participate, even passively, in a tax-paid, state funded recitation. Arguments going for the school were numerous; recital of the Pledge is patriotic and not religious and any reference to God was only to acknowledge the role of faith in building the country’s formation.
The Pledge was looked at as a non violation of coercion because it was not a religious act, rather it is a ceremonial deism, unlike how prayer is a religious act. Lastly, The Pledge only reflected the traditional concepts the nation was founded upon, that God, is in the details of the Declaration of Independence and its monetary system; examples of this are the Declaration mentions, “endowed by their Creator.” and also upon money it is stamped with, “In God We Trust”.
The decision for the Justices was written by Justice Stevens for the majority was curious as they believed Newdow had no case at all because he was not a next friend or parent with full rights under the state of California. Stevens was joined by Breyer, Ginsberg, Kennedy, and Souter with the finding that Newdow lacked standing to pursue any claim at all. Newdow was looked at as a non-custodial parent and therefore did not have religious or educational decision rights as the mother did that would affect the daughter. Interestingly, the decision was referred to as must having, “prudential standing,” in that the Court should not resolve all questions of constitutionality unless necessary; here, the Court acknowledge it might be appropriate for state courts to deal with issues involving case about domestic relationships. Newdow lacked the rights to litigate as his daughter’s ‘next friend”, the mother had the sole legal custody to exercise legal control, and Newdow’s status was defined by state law. Newdow has the right to dictate to others what they may and may not say to his child, under his status, regarding respecting religion however Newdow was not a next friend. The family court order deprived Newdow of his status.
The impact of the Court decision on American society in general is that because the case has been argued once before, it can possibly be argued for multiple times in the future. The case should never have been heard at all because Newdow had no true case or controversy; Newdow may have felt truly that his daughter was injured but he believed wrongly that he had merit. The issue here is that any cultural practice is bound to offend someone’s sensibilities at some time.
We have become a nation of intolerant citizens who are offended by many things, and not realizing or believing that what we do may have already offended somebody, but believing that EVERYONE offends us; and this is one problem of having a free society. G.K Chesteton noted, “Just because you have the right to do something doesn’t mean that you’re right in doing it.” Newdow, if allowed, chose to shift his discomfort for the issue upon others whether or not others felt uncomfortable; but the issue here is many feel differently than he does and are a majority who support the phrase, “under God.” Our free society only asks that we tolerate others views, and not that we have to subscribe to them. I believe Newdow and the elite think their views are above everyone else’s.
The case of the Pledge is an act of patriotism and not of prayer, though it could be taken as prayer for some people if they chose to make it a reverential recital for themselves. Those who reject this understanding must also reject the validation of the Constitution, the National Anthem and other civic statements or documents acknowledging God exists in our national history. The Ninth Circuit voiding the Pledge is grossly wrong for voiding the Pledge violates the Establishment Clause and favors atheism upon public life, regardless if the majority is silent on the issue, and creates a bias against any type of religion. If we are to do this, then the door opens for atheism to become a default religion protected by an Establishment Clause, and so we must choose who is to be offended, because someone will be offended. In my own personal view, the impact of secularizing the Supreme Court and the nation, as is the desire of secularists, will rob the nation of a moral anchor, and replace it with moral anarchy. It will replace constitutional supremacy with judicial supremacy. Some laugh at this because they cannot conceive of this ever occurring. They must experience it first before it becomes a truth. How foolish is this to ignore the wisdom of our forefathers and what they experienced as this nation was crafted.
We cannot ignore, John Adams our second President, when he declared that, “Our Constitution was made for a moral and religious people; it is wholly inadequate for the governance of any other.” Yet secularist viewpoints are engineering the nation by pushing reconstructionist progressive values that posit intellectualism over moral doctrine. These views came true following the words of Frederick Nietzsche, that the next century would become the bloodiest century in history, because of the philosophical ramifications of the death of god. Aldous Huxley, in his dystopian book a Brave New World outlines the ideas of conditioning, psychological engineering, and reproductive technology that make the world go awry. It is a slippery slope that was visited in Nazi Germany with the suppression of religious views, in Russia of the Bolsheviks with the entire removal of churches, and lastly in China under Mao. We cannot ignore that religion is growing at a quick pace in China in underground movements regardless of its suppression as the people hunger for faith in something other than to foist it upon human dictators and socialistic systems that work in theory but fall apart in application; even philosopher and socialist Sartre knew the failures of his ideals for socialism because it could only logically lead into the dead end of communism and this failed in Europe; Sartre reached a dead end and knew it, yet the progressives continue to push the idea of humanism and a sterile view of science over the idea of recognizing that man chooses to be free and without yoke to human constructs.
The idea here is not to proselytize in the name of ANY god, but to posit that in removing any type of faith based system from society means that nothing else morally can move into replacing the vacuum and give it weightiness and substance; a removal of respect for something may cause a disrespect for many things because there is no allegiance to any ideas that spiritually unify man. The philosopher Mortimer J. Adler in his wonderful book, the Great Ideas, demonstrated quite simply how rules made by man create dictatorships. Millions of Nazis can create one false belief system that can out weigh the truth of one solitary man. The possibility of having totalitarianism in the U.S. is closer than we think.
My own personal belief is that schools should be allowed to have recitals of the pledge. If students don’t want to participate, then they do not have to. We cannot ignore the original constructs of history regardless of what Mr. Newdow believes or the revisionists of history that exist in the liberal ranks. The history of this nation is replete with examples of God taking precedent in all of our documents and civic ideas. Rejecting “under God” precipitates a war with our national tradition. Newdow’s case is not the last the courts will hear of this issue. We must continue to act through Congress, the White House, the Courts and the election process if we are to fulfill the ideas our forefathers had for keeping this nations ideas alive. We must continue to teach courses in the greatness of civics, the strength of allegiance to a nation as demonstrated in our history, and that the Constitution has a great purpose. We must continue to teach ideals and principles that increase respect and knowledge of the machinery of our government.
Constitutional Rights Foundation. Should we Take God out of the Pledge of Allegiance. (Feb 27, 2014). Retrieved from http://www.crf-usa.org/bill-of-rights-in-action/bria-20-4-c-should-we- take-god-out-of-the-pledge-of-allegiance
Justice. Gov. OSG Briefs Elk Grove Unified School District and David W. Gordon, Superintendent, Petitioners v. Michael A. Newdow, Et Al. (Feb 28, 2014) Retrieved from http://www.justice.gov/osg/briefs/2003/3mer/2mer/2002-1624.mer.aa.html
NBC. (Feb 28, 2013). Court dismisses pledge suit. Justices sidestep church-state issue in tossing atheists case. Retrieved from http://www.nbcnews.com/id/5208621/ns/politics/t/court-dismisses-pledge- suit/#.UxJcoPldV8F