The Pledge of Allegiance,
with its inclusion of the words “under God,” is constitutional, a federal
appeals court ruled March 11, reversing a previous ruling.
The 2-1 ruling answers a
challenge by California atheist Michael Newdow, who argued that the use of the
pledge in a Northern California school district — where children of atheists
had to listen to others recite it— violated the First Amendment’s clause prohibiting
the establishment of religion.
The “students are being
coerced to participate in a patriotic exercise, not a religious exercise,” the
9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday. “The Pledge is not a prayer
and its recitation is not a religious exercise.”
In 2002, the 9th Circuit
Court ruled that the use of the words “under God” in the pledge violated the
Constitution. The current court called that decision “erroneous.” The Supreme
Court later dismissed the earlier Newdow suit, sidestepping the church-state
issues by finding he did not have standing to sue.
“The 9th Circuit today
failed to uphold the basic principle found within the first ten words of the
Bill of Rights … that the government is required to show equal respect to the
lawful religious views of all individuals,” Newdow said.
Kevin J. “Seamus” Hasson,
founder and president of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, who argued for
the school district, said the court “finally stood up” for the Pledge of
In a scathing and lengthy dissent,
Judge Stephen Reinhardt said the words “under God” have an “undeniably
religious purpose” and “we have failed in our constitutional duty as a court.”
In a separate decision, also
issued March 11, the 9th Circuit dismissed Newdow’s challenge to the words “In
God We Trust” on U.S. currency.