The U.S. Constitution emerged as the Pyrrhic winner this week when the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously dismissed the case attacking the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance.
The case was dismissed on what lay people call a “technicality” – what lawyers call “standing.” The court ruled – as many of us have argued for two years – that self-proclaimed atheist Michael Newdow did not have the legal authority to bring the case in the first place. Newdow brought the lawsuit on behalf of his 9-year-old daughter, despite the fact he is not a custodial parent. It’s important to note that Newdow’s daughter and her mother – the custodial parent – disagreed with the lawsuit. And reciting the pledge in the Elk Grove School District is not coerced. It’s voluntary.
“[O]ur national culture allows public recognition of our Nation’s religious history and character. In the words of the House Report that accompanied the insertion of the phrase “under God” in the Pledge: ‘From the time of our earliest history our peoples and our institutions have reflected the traditional concept that our Nation was founded on a fundamental belief in God.’”
Justice Rehnquist also said that the pledge is a “declaration of belief in allegiance and loyalty to the United States flag and the Republic that it represents,” and that the “phrase ‘under God’ is in no sense a prayer, nor an endorsement of any religion, but a simple recognition” of our history, which reveals a country founded on a belief in God.
Of real concern is that only three justices went on record saying that the phrase “under God” is constitutional. Undoubtedly the five others who voted on this case could have agreed with the three. The court could have ruled in favor of “under God,” and this case and its progeny would be finished. Instead, the Pledge and many other national symbols and expressions will certainly be attacked again in the lower courts. The American Civil Liberties Union’s version of the so-called “separation of church and state” is an enemy that never sleeps.
By taking the easy way out and dismissing Elk Grove v. Newdow without deciding it on the merits, the high court has ignored history and precedent. When another “Pledge” case arises, the court could very well use it to reconstruct yet another part of the First Amendment’s meaning or even to apply some version of international law. Then, instead of each person deciding on his own whether to say the words that nine out of 10 Americans want in their pledge, the court could further belie the spirit and the intent of the framers of the U.S. Constitution.
In his address at an ecumenical prayer breakfast on Aug. 23, 1984, in Dallas Texas, President Reagan said: “America needs God more than God needs America. If we ever forget that we are ‘One Nation Under God’, then we will be a Nation gone under.”
That is an expression of liberty at its finest. That view certainly provides a little more justice for all than the view that demands censorship for the rest of us on behalf of a few disgruntled special-interest activists.