Breaking her silence, the mother of the child involved in the Pledge of Allegiance case declares her 8-year-old daughter is a practicing Christian who is not harmed by reciting “one nation under God,” contrary to what the girl’s father argues in the controversial case.
At the same time, the second-grader’s father, Sacramento atheist activist Michael Newdow, is reframing the basis of his lawsuit as injuring his right as a parent to direct the religious upbringing of his child.
“I was concerned that the American public would be led to believe that my daughter is an atheist,” said Sandra Banning in a statement released to members of Congress and obtained by WorldNetDaily yesterday.
Confirming what WND reported last week, Banning stated she and her daughter were active in their church, Calvary Chapel of Laguna Creek, in their home town of Elk Grove, Calif., and described the girl’s reaction to the ruling by the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals that “under God” in the Pledge is unconstitutional.
“In her discussions with me, she expressed sadness about the decision,” said Banning. “I assured her that this was a long process and there were many steps before the Pledge would be changed and the words ‘under God’ removed. Hearing this, she told me that it was OK because she will still whisper ‘one nation under God’ and no one will hear her and know she
is breaking the law,” she said.
Banning further explained she was breaking her silence on the matter because of the potential impact of the case on her daughter’s life, and in the interest of protecting her reputation and clearing up any misrepresentations.
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.
The San Francisco-based appellate court ruled in favor of Newdow, declaring 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.”
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.
As WorldNetDaily reported Tuesday, a petition for a rehearing by the full court will be filed by the government and is expected to be authorized by the U.S. solicitor general. Contrary to WND’s initial report, however, the rehearing “en banc,” as it is called, is not a sure thing. The government has until early August to file the request. Once it does, a majority of the 24 active appellate judges will decide whether a panel of 11 judges will rehear the
case. Information from Newdow who has a law degree and is representing himself suggests the court has a strong interest
in the case.
“The court of appeals did something rather unusual, I think. They made an order for me to have a pro bono attorney. They were going to appoint an attorney to argue the case for me,” Newdow told WND. “But I objected. I said, ‘wait a second, I’ve done all the work and I can talk. And I’m a doctor and can handle the pressure.’”
The revelation that the daughter of the plaintiff is a churchgoing Christian who voluntarily says “under God” in the pledge may factor into the government’s case, should it proceed. Making reference to “many legal issues pending,” Banning said in her statement she had retained the Washington, D.C., law firm of Foley & Lardner to bring the issues to the attention of the 9th Circuit.
“It is my hope that these efforts will lead to a reversal of this decision,” she said. Banning also called on congressional members to continue their enthusiastic support of her battle.
In the meantime, Newdow also seeks to clarify the record, emphasizing in an exclusive interview with WND that he did not file the suit on behalf of his daughter, but on behalf of himself.
In the opinion, Judge Goodwin wrote that Newdow claimed his daughter is injured when she is compelled to “watch and listen as her state-employed teacher in her state-run school leads her classmates in a ritual proclaiming that there is a God, and that our’s [sic] is ‘one nation under God.’”
“I don’t think I argued that,” Newdow told WND. “I mentioned that she has a free-exercise right and that I consider it injury to have government force dogma down the throats of little children. But I don’t think I argued it in terms of her right. And particularly since the press [attention] and everything I’ve made it quite clear this is my case and not hers. … I have the right as a parent to be able to send my child to school without the government indoctrinating views.”
Newdow tells WND he’s girding for a bigger battle against the government over family law, which he complains is rife with constitutional violations and “destroys families and injures children.” His ire over the family court system has been raised through the custody battle in which he and Banning are embroiled over their daughter, who splits her time between the two homes.
But Newdow says he’s not fighting the system for himself.
“The whole system is based on this ‘best interest of the child standard,’” said Newdow. “There is no such thing. How could you possibly define it? You can’t. Even if you could, how would you measure it? You can’t. … Suppose the court says, ‘it’s not in the best interests of the child for them to be with you.’ How do you answer that? You can’t prove anything. It’s ridiculous.
“The worst part is that it hurts the child,” Newdow continued. “You take the two most important people in a child’s life and you drive a wedge and you turn it into an adversarial relationship … and suddenly you tell them, ‘hey, we’re going to have a competition for time with the children … and the one who wins, we’re going to give them more money because the child support award … is proportional to the amount of time they get and we’re going to destroy the life of the noncustodial parent … because we’ve decided it’s best for the child.’”
When asked if his Pledge suit was in the best interest of his daughter, Newdow replied, “Why is it not in my child’s best interest [that she have] the ability to go to school and not have religious dogma thrust down [her] throat? … She should have God? Is that what the critics are saying?”
Newdow denied an Associated Press report that he is raising the girl as an atheist, adding that he reads her Bible
“I want her to know her mother is Christian, and I want her to know I’m atheist, and I want her to decide as she gets older what makes sense. … I read her Bible stories and say, ‘does this make sense to you? Do you believe some guy was able to go all over the Earth and get every two animals from polar bears and marine iguanas … and tigers and put them all on one boat? Sounds pretty incredible to me. You can decide for yourself.’”
Newdow maintains his daughter’s voluntary recitation of the Pledge doesn’t necessarily indicate she loves God: “She’s 8 years old. Eight-year-old kids don’t know what they love. They know what they’ve been taught. … You can convince them of anything. That’s why kids believe in Santa Clause until we tell them it’s not true.”
Despite an initial onslaught of threats, followed by an influx of supportive calls and e-mails, Newdow remains defiant about his efforts to dispel what he considers myth for all of America. Answering to critics who claim he’s revising history by seeking to remove God from the Pledge and then the nation’s currency, Newdow asserts he’s following the lead of the Founding Fathers.
“Our country was founded on the Constitution. The Constitution has a preamble that makes no mention of God. We know the state constitutions that were in existence at the time were used as templates for the development of our federal Constitution. Every single preamble of the constitutions of the states … reference God or the Almighty or the supreme being … We don’t have that in our federal Constitution. How do you explain that? If we wanted to base our society on God, why would they leave it out?”
Newdow’s arguments for his cause appear as endless as the case law on the “Establishment Clause” he spent four
years researching. But as Banning’s statement suggests, there is much more to be said from opponents, whom she reminds are also endless.
“This is a difficult time for our family. We draw strength from knowing the president, the U.S. Congress and the American public have overwhelmingly supported the beliefs of my daughter and me in this case,” she said.
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