The atheists just had their day before the U.S. Supreme Court, but they are not in good spirits about it. Their attempt to strike "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance now looks like a legal boomerang.
Michael Newdow, an emergency room physician with a law degree, a non-custodial parent of a 9-year-old daughter with an ax to grind with monotheistic religion, decided he wasn't happy about students at his daughter's school standing to say the pledge each morning. Newdow contends the words "under God" in the pledge violate his daughter's First Amendment rights because they constitute the establishment of religion and prayer in public schools.
Newdow sued and won in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, where a three-member panel ruled 2-1 that the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance are unconstitutional. The Bush administration appealed Newdow's suit, Elk Grove Unified School District vs. Newdow, to the U.S. Supreme Court. On March 24, before eight of the nine justices, Newdow, representing himself, argued his case. He was peppered with questions by justices in what court observers said was an unusually spirited exchange.
The girl's mother, Sandra Banning, to whom a California court had previously awarded sole custody, is a born-again Christian who regularly attends church and has no problem with her daughter reciting the pledge. A lower federal court threw out Newdow's suit because he does not have custody of his daughter. The Supreme Court could follow suit, or the justices could decide, once and for all, if the words "under God" are enough to change the meaning of the Pledge of Allegiance from a patriotic oath into a prayer.
On the same day Newdow argued his case, a poll by the Associated Press found that 87 percent of Americans want the phrase "under God" to remain in the Pledge of Allegiance. Those particular words, used by Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address, describe perfectly who we are as a people.
Before going insane, Friedrich Nietzsche declared, "God is dead." Atheists want the Supreme Court to make it official. But the public will not stand for it. A movement is afoot in Congress, as allowed by the Constitution, to take authority away from the federal courts over this issue.
The liberal justices on the Supreme Court are in a quandary. Over the past several decades, they have again and again censored and excluded prayer and morality from public life and schools.
Phyllis Schlafly is a national leader of the pro-family movement, a nationally syndicated columnist and author of Feminist Fantasies.
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