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Court keeps 'under God' in Pledge

It rules that the California father who brought the case doesn't have legal standing.

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Despite the apparent dodge, some legal analysts say they are pleased with the broader outcome - that all earlier rulings by the San Francisco-based Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals declaring the Pledge policy unconstitutional are reversed.

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"The Supreme Court has removed a dark cloud that has been hanging over one of the nation's most important and cherished traditions," says Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice.

At issue in determining standing was whether Newdow, who is not married to his daughter's mother and who does not live with his daughter, had a recognizable legal stake that entitled him to object to the Pledge policy at his daughter's school.

The mother, Sandra Banning, says neither she nor her daughter objects to participating in the Pledge of Allegiance.

The Ninth Circuit had ruled that a non-custodial parent, like Newdow, has the right to challenge government policies that affect his or her child and are presumptively unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court disagreed.

The majority justices ruled that Newdow's legal standing turns on his parental status as defined by California domestic relations laws. Newdow has a right to instruct his daughter in his religious views, the court says. But Stevens adds, "The California cases simply do not stand for the proposition that Newdow has a right to dictate to others what they may and may not say to his child respecting religion."

The decision dismisses Newdow's lawsuit. In it he had objected to his daughter being subjected to teacher-led recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance every morning under a statewide policy.

He argued that the federal law that added the words "under God" to the Pledge - which Congress passed 50 years ago to the day - converted it into an impermissible endorsement of religion by the government.

In June 2002, a panel of Ninth Circuit judges agreed with Newdow. By a 2-to-1 vote the panel ruled that the modified Pledge was an unconstitutional endorsement of religion.

Eight months later, the panel dropped its endorsement finding and narrowed its ruling by focusing instead on California's policy of teacher-led recitation of the Pledge. The appeals court panel ruled that requiring teachers to lead students in reciting the words "under God" as part of the Pledge converted a daily profession of patriotism into a coerced religious act.

If upheld by the high court, the panel's ruling on the Pledge issue would have made it unconstitutional for teachers in California and 43 other states with similar policies to lead their students in reciting the Pledge as long as the words "under God" were included in it.

Under a Supreme Court ruling issued in 1943, public school students may not be required to stand and repeat the Pledge of Allegiance. Supporters of the Pledge said this decision suggests that those who object to the word "God" in the Pledge may choose to not repeat the Pledge or simply not repeat the word "God" in the Pledge.

The appeals court rejected the reasoning of the 1943 ruling, saying that just the act of performing the Pledge in the presence of any objecting students was a form of impermissible coercion to participate in a government-authorized religious act. The appeals court applied the neutrality rationale used by the high court in 1992 to strike down the offering of a prayer at public middle school graduation ceremonies.

David T. Cook and Elizabeth Armstrong contributed to this report.

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