Federal court approves 'under God' in Pledge of Allegiance

Atheist Michael Newdow challenged 'under God' in the Pledge of Allegiance and 'in God we trust' on US currency as unconstitutional endorsements of religion. But the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals said the references to God are grounded in historical philosophy and politics.

New York City public school students recite the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of their day in this file photo. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected challenges to 'under God' in the Pledge and 'In God We Trust' on currency.
Rich Pedroncelli/AP/File
In this June, 2004 file photo, Michael Newdow looks down at the fax copy of the US Supreme Court's ruling preserving the phrase 'one nation under God' in the Pledge of Allegiance.

An atheist activist from Sacramento failed to convince a federal court in California that references to God in the Pledge of Allegiance and on US currency are unconstitutional endorsements of religion.

In two separate cases, Michael Newdow, who previously challenged the Pledge in a case that reached the US Supreme Court in 2004, attempted to further his long-running campaign to strip references to God from the public domain.

In Mr. Newdow’s latest case against “under God” in the Pledge, the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals panel ruled, in a 2-to-1 decision, that the schoolroom routine for millions of children is not a violation of the Constitution, but a historical reflection of the Founding Fathers’ beliefs that “serves to unite our vast nation.”

“Not every mention of God or religion by our government or at the government’s direction is a violation of the Establishment Clause,” wrote Judge Carlos Bea for the majority in the opinion that was issued Thursday.

“Without knowing the history behind these words, one might well think the phrase 'one Nation under God' could not be anything but religious,” wrote Judge Bea. “History, however, shows these words have an even broader meaning, one grounded in philosophy and politics and reflecting many events of historical significance.”

In Newdow’s previous case against the Pledge, the US Supreme Court ruled that the California atheist, who founded the First Amendment Church of True Science, didn’t have the legal standing to bring the case on behalf of his school-age daughter since he didn’t have legal custody of her. The court did not decide the constitutional question.

Newdow then re-filed the lawsuit in California along with other atheists who objected to their children reciting the Pledge. In 2005, a federal district court judge agreed that “under God” overstepped the Constitutional limits on state sanctioned religion.

At the time, the district court said it was bound by a 2002 ruling from Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that found the Pledge unconstitutional. Thursday’s ruling reverses those decisions.

In his dissent, Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote that while the court’s affirmation regarding the constitutionality of the Pledge “will undoubtedly be celebrated by a large number of Americans as a repudiation of activist, liberal, Godless judging,” the result amounts to a failure of the court's constitutional duty.

In the case involving “In God We Trust” on US currency, the federal appeals court panel was unanimous.

It ruled that Newdow does not have legal standing to challenge the motto. Judge Bea, writing again for the majority, wrote: “although Newdow alleges the national motto turns Atheists into political outsiders and inflicts a stigmatic injury upon them, an 'abstract stigmatic injury' resulting from such outsider status is insufficient to confer standing."

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