Judge Rules Pledge of Allegiance in Public Schools Unconstitutional

A federal judge ruled Wednesday that reciting the Pledge of Allegiance – which contains the phrase, “under God” – in public schools was unconstitutional, stating that it violates children’s rights to be “free from a coercive requirement to affirm God.”

The case was brought forward by atheist Michael Newdow of Sacramento County California, whose previous lawsuit to ban the pledge was rejected by the Supreme Court in 2004 on procedural grounds that he did not have custody of his elementary school daughter at the time. The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a party to the case, issued a statement saying that it would immediately appeal.

“To protect the right for every child to recite the Pledge, we will immediately appeal this decision to the 9th Circuit,” said Derek L. Gaubatz, Esq., director of litigation for the Washington D.C.-based, Becket Fund.

In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton in Sacramento stated that he was bound by the previous ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in 2002 that favored Newdow’s position that the pledge was unconstitutional in school settings, according to the Associated Press.

Focus on the Family Action said that Wednesday’s outcome was the result of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that "attempted to eradicate God from the public square," according to vice president of government and public policy Tom Minnery.

“This country was founded on the acknowledgement of God and His blessings on this land,” he said. “And now, because the Supreme Court failed to rule on the merits of Michael Newdow's original case, 'under God' is in the crosshairs again.”

Newdow believes people would understand how atheists feel if children were asked to deny that God exists.

"Imagine every morning if the teachers had the children stand up, place their hands over their hearts, and say, 'We are one nation that denies God exists,'" Newdow told AP radio after the ruling.

"I think that everybody would not be sitting here saying, 'Oh, what harm is that.' They'd be furious. And that's exactly what goes on against atheists. And it shouldn't."

A restraining order will be filed by Judge Karlton, preventing three school districts in Sacramento County, California to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, according to AP. They are the Elk Grove Unified, Rio Linda and Elverta Joint elementary school districts.

The phrase “under God” was added to the pledge of allegiance in 1954 by legislation stating it “reflected the traditional concept that our nation was founded on the fundamental belief in God,” said the House Report that accompanied the law, according to AP.

Mat Staver, president of Liberty Counsel, a Christian legal group, said that the history of the Pledge of Allegiance "illustrates that the phrase ‘under God’ is a permissible acknowledgement rather than an establishment of religion."

He added that if the Pledge tended to establish a religion, this would have occurred during the past 50 years.

“Today’s ruling illustrates why we need judges who are umpires applying settled law rather than activists intent on imposing their own ideology,” Staver said.