A federal court in New Hampshire has tossed a lawsuit against school districts in that state alleging that they improperly coerced children to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, a decision that the American Center for Law and Justice, which represented members of Congress in an amicus brief, praised.
“We’re extremely pleased with the sound and well reasoned decision issued by the court – a decision that rejects another attempt to rewrite history by targeting the Pledge and the phrase ‘under God,’” said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the ACLJ, yesterday.
“The court reached the only decision that it could – the lawsuit was dismissed and the court concluded that the New Hampshire statute giving students an opportunity to voluntarily recite the Pledge in school is constitutional and consistent with the First Amendment. We’re pleased the court’s decision underscores the arguments made in our amicus brief: the Pledge is a time-honored exercise that embraces patriotism, not religion.”
The ruling from U.S. District Judge Steven McAuliffe applied several different Establishment Clause tests and held that the school districts had not violated federal standards.
The case was launched in 2007 by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, represented by California lawyer Michael Newdow, who has brought a multitude of lawsuits over the Pledge of Allegiance over the years.
In fact, Newdow at one point sued WorldNetDaily in a related dispute. The news service quickly was dropped from the case, which Newdow ultimately also lost.
According to the Thomas More Law Center, a court dismissed Newdow’s defamation complaint against Rev. Austin Miles, the action in which Newdow also originally targeted WND. The judge concluded in a 2008 ruling Newdow was not defamed and was not entitled to damages. The dismissal was with prejudice, meaning the claim cannot be refiled, the legal advocacy group said.
The law center said the claim was based on an article Miles wrote asserting Newdow had lied to the court in the Pledge of Allegiance case by claiming his daughter was forced to recite the words “under God” at her school.
Miles’ commentary noted Newdow’s daughter actually is a Christian who willingly said the Pledge.
Newdow initially was awarded, in June 2004, a default judgment against Miles for $1 million, but the law center said Miles hadn’t been notified of the complaint. He contacted the Thomas More Law Center after learning about the award, and lawyers persuaded the court to set aside the judgment and allow the case to proceed to trial.
The case previously involved WND, the Internet’s leading independent news site. But shortly after naming WND as a defendant, Newdow agreed to drop the organization from the complaint. The case alleged WND published a quote from Newdow that his daughter “was forced to recite, caused her emotional damage, stress, anxiety and a sense of being left out.”
The lawsuit alleged the quote was never said by Newdow. But WND did not publish the quotation, and Newdow quickly agreed to dismiss WND as a defendant.
Newdow attained national prominence by suing his then-8-year-old daughter’s Sacramento school district, claiming that having public-school students recite the Pledge is a violation of the First Amendment’s prohibition of “an establishment of religion.”
In March 2002, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled in his favor, prompting widespread national outrage. The U.S. Supreme Court later rejected his claim on a technicality, explaining that he didn’t have standing to bring the action.
According to published reports, Newdow’s daughter and her mother at the time attended an evangelical Christian church and had no opposition to the Pledge of Allegiance.
Newdow’s claim in New Hampshire challenged the practice of reciting the Pledge in public schools as a patriotic exercise.
But the court decision said the “New Hampshire Pledge statute has a secular legislative purpose. It was enacted to enhance instruction in the nation’s history, and foster a sense of patriotism. Its primary effect neither advances nor inhibits religion. It does not foster excessive government involvement with religion.”
Constitution prohibits the government from establishing a
religion, or coercing one to support or participate in religion,
a religious exercise, or prayer. It does not mandate that
government refrain from all civic, cultural, and historic
references to a God. The line is often difficult to draw, of
course, and in some senses the drawn line yet has some mobility,” the court said.
“When Congress added the words ‘under God,’ to the Pledge in
1954, its actual intent probably had far more to do with politics
than religion — more to do with currying favor with the
electorate than with an Almighty. (God, if God exists, is
probably not so easily fooled.) In the intervening half century
since the words were added, rote repetition has … removed any significant religious content
embodied in the words, if there ever was significant religious
(as opposed to political) content embodied in those words.
Today, the words remain religious words, but plainly fall
comfortably within the category of historic artifacts —
reflecting a benign or ceremonial civic deism that presents no
threat to the fundamental values protected by the Establishment