October 2005 Church & State | AU Bulletin

A federal court Sept. 14 resurrected the controversy over the Pledge of Allegiance, striking down public school recitation because of the phrase “one nation under God.”

U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton ruled that school sponsorship of the Pledge violates students’ right to be “free from a coercive requirement to affirm God.”

The new challenge was brought by Sacramento atheist Michael Newdow, a physician and attorney. Newdow had previously sued on behalf of his daughter, who attends a California public school. In 2004, the Supreme Court threw out Newdow’s case, ruling that he does not have the legal right to bring it since he lacks primary physical custody of the girl.

This time, Newdow brought two other unnamed California families into the case with him. Karlton, acknowledging that his ruling “will satisfy no one involved” in the ongoing debate over the Pledge, said he was bound by a previous decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declaring public school recitation of the Pledge unconstitutional.

Americans United said Karlton made the right call.

“The court’s decision was correct as a matter of Establish­ment Clause jurisprudence,” said Americans United Legal Director Ayesha Khan. “The Constitution forbids government to intervene in religious matters.”

Karlton’s ruling in Newdow v. Congress of the United States of America applies to only one court district in California. U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez and groups supporting the Pledge have already vowed to fight the decision on appeal.