The 8-year-old at the center of last week’s controversial court ruling – which held that “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional – is a Christian who voluntarily submits to the classroom recitation of the pledge, contrary to the claim made by her father, who filed the case arguing the girl was “injured” by the practice.
The ironic revelation that the child and her mother are Christians who attend the Calvary Chapel in their home town of Elk Grove, Calif., was announced by Pastor Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, Calif., on his radio program Sunday night, and first reported by CPI News, a newssite run by homeschoolers. According to CPI News, the mother and daughter pleaded with the father not to file the case.
Sacramento atheist activist Michael Newdow mounted the now-infamous legal challenge against Congress for inserting the phrase “under God” in the Pledge in 1954, and against the Elk Grove Unified School District for its policy to have teachers lead students in reciting the Pledge in class. Newdow filed the case on behalf of his daughter, whom he told the Associated Press he is raising as an atheist.
“It’s my parental right to keep the government off my child,” AP quoted Newdow as saying.
But as Fox News reported, Newdow admitted that his 8-year-old daughter voluntarily says the pledge along with her classmates.
“This is more about me than her. I’d like to keep her out of this,” Fox quotes Newdow as saying.
Court records show the 49-year-old emergency-room physician and lawyer is embroiled in a custody battle with the girl’s mother, Sandra Banning. Neither could be reached for comment. The New York Times reports Newdow followed his
daughter when Banning moved to Sacramento from Florida two years ago, and the couple now shares custody of the second-grader.
The Times reports the custody dispute has motivated Newdow to set his sights on changing family law. Newdow also plans to challenge the use of “In God We Trust” on currency and the inclusion of prayers at presidential inaugurations, according to the Times.
“Why should I be made to feel like an outsider?” said Newdow.
The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the phrase “under God” amounts to a government endorsement of religion in violation of the Constitution’s Establishment Clause and “sends a message to unbelievers that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community.”
“It is a profession of a religious belief, namely, a belief in monotheism,” wrote Judge Alfred Goodwin in the 2-1 opinion. “To recite the Pledge … is to swear allegiance to the values for which the flag stands: unity, indivisibility, liberty, justice, and ? since 1954 ? monotheism.”
Judge Ferdinand Fernandez wrote in his dissenting opinion, “Upon Newdow’s theory of our Constitution, accepted by my colleagues … we will soon find ourselves prohibited from using our album of patriotic songs in many public settings. ‘God Bless America’ and ‘America The Beautiful’ will be gone for sure, and while use of the first and second stanzas of the Star Spangled Banner will still be permissible, we will be precluded from straying into the third. And currency beware!”
The ruling, if allowed to stand, means schoolchildren in the nine Western states covered by the court can no longer
recite the Pledge.
Amid outrage from President Bush, Congress, state houses, clergy and the public, Goodwin subsequently stayed his own ruling, temporarily blocking its enforcement. The delay allows the government to ask the full court to reconsider its ruling, or ask the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn it.
Newdow appears ready for a protracted fight. His challenge to the Pledge began in 1998 when he sued then-President Clinton, the U.S. Congress and the Broward County school board to delete “under God” from the Pledge while a part-time resident in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The suit was dropped when he moved to California and lost legal standing. Newdow resumed the battle in California.
Undaunted by a torrent of angry calls and e-mails, Newdow told Knight Ridder News Service he was going to set up his
new answering machine message so people can “press 1 for questions, 2 for compliments, 3 for insults and 4 for threats.”