The atheist activist whose lawsuit last year targeting the "under God" phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance – a case that sent shock waves across America and elicited public condemnation from President Bush and dozens of congressmen – yesterday agreed to drop the $1 million libel lawsuit he filed recently against WorldNetDaily.
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Michael Newdow's lawsuit – "Rev. Dr. Michael A. Newdow vs. Chaplain Austin Miles; Assist News Service; WorldNetDaily.com Inc." – was served on WorldNetDaily last Thursday. It alleges:
- The reference, "under God," claimed Newdow, "that my daughter was forced to recite, caused her emotional damage, stress, anxiety and a sense of being left out. I'm an American citizen. I don't like my rights infringed upon by my government," he said.
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The only problem with the lawsuit, however, is that what Newdow alleges never happened. After conferring with WND's attorney, Newdow agreed yesterday to drop WND as a defendant from the lawsuit.
Newdow, both a lawyer and emergency room physician, attained national infamy last year when he sued his 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 case is now in the hands of the Supreme Court.
In his Pledge complaint, Newdow argued the government's use of the words "under God" infringes upon his right as a parent to "inculcate in his daughter ... the atheistic beliefs he finds persuasive."
Friday, WorldNetDaily's legal counsel Richard Ackerman responded to the legal attack on WND this way:
- Dear Mr. Newdow:
Please be advised that our firm has been retained to represent the interests of WorldNetDaily.com, Inc. We will be filing responsive pleadings and appropriate motions relative to your complaint in this action within the next 30-60 days as required by law. At this juncture, we are kindly requesting that you dismiss your action with prejudice. There is no factual basis for your claims of liability against our client. If you do not dismiss this case on or by 5:00 p.m., Tuesday, August 12, 2003, know that you will be held to account for the legal fees and expenses associated with defense of this matter. Also know that you will be sued for malicious prosecution once we have defeated your claims. As you consider
your options, please know that our hourly rate is $300.00 per hour. If this matter is taken to trial, you could easily find yourself liable for upwards of $70,000.00-80,000.00 for our costs of defense. Now is the time to carefully consider the lack of factual and legal merit of your case. Thank you for your prompt attention to this very serious matter.
WorldNetDaily never published any article about Newdow on July 4, 2002, nor did it ever publish any of the quotes cited in Newdow's lawsuit – or anything even close.
In fact, the article to which Newdow refers, and from which he quotes, was not written, authorized or published or in any way connected to WorldNetDaily.com, but rather was published by the ASSIST News Service, and written by Rev. Austin Miles, the other two defendants named in the complaint. That July 4, 2002, article, titled "Perjury charge against atheist required?" mentions WorldNetDaily in one sentence, as follows:
- An investigative report by WorldNetDaily.com revealed that Newdow has been separated from his wife and daughter, who want no part of his ravings. They are in fact, Christians and members of Rev. Chuck Smith's Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, California, where they live.
Ironically, although Newdow's $1 million complaint accused WorldNetDaily of publishing remarks falsely characterizing him as saying he felt his daughter was being harmed by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, in reality WorldNetDaily was the media entity that actually published Newdow's remarks claiming just the opposite – that his legal challenge was not about his daughter. That is, WorldNetDaily provided Newdow with the opportunity to express himself in depth, in a lengthy, exclusive interview.
Yesterday, after a frank phone conservation between Newdow and Ackerman, Newdow threw in the towel and offered to release WND from the lawsuit:
On letterhead topped ironically with "Rev. Dr. Michael Newdow, First Amendmist Church of True Science," the avowed atheist wrote Ackerman:
- Attached please find a copy of the article referenced in the above-noted litigation. As you can see, "an investigative report by WorldNetDaily.com" is referenced in the fifth paragraph of the story. If the involvement of WorldNetDaily.com in this matter is limited only to that investigative report, then I agree wholeheartedly that WorldNetDaily.com is not a proper defendant. Accordingly, I apologize for having named you and if you can provide me with a simple statement that WorldNetDaily.com's involvement is so limited – I will gladly dismiss the case against WorldNetDaily.com with prejudice as requested in your letter of Aug 8.
"With prejudice" is a legal term meaning Newdow can't re-file this case against WorldNetDaily in the future.
Editor's note: WorldNetDaily has a Legal Defense Fund, set up originally to help support the newssite in its ongoing litigation with Al Gore crony Clark Jones in Tennessee and other legal challenges we face from time to time – including this week's lawsuit by atheist-attorney activist Michael Newdow. Readers who wish to donate to help in these matters may donate to WND's Legal Defense Fund.