The California atheist known for his legal challenge against the Pledge of Allegiance is in court arguing the national motto “In God We Trust” is unconstitutional.
Michael Newdow, who filed a 162-page complaint against the president and Congress, will argue his case in federal district court in Sacramento May 19.
The national public-interest Thomas More Law Center has filed a brief supporting the United States government’s motion to dismiss the suit.
The Law Center argues, “This nation and its form of government were founded upon an essential idea: Individuals have God-given rights that the government may neither bestow nor deny.”
Richard Thompson, the center’s chief counsel, says Newdow’s “attempt to eliminate the mere acknowledgement of our religious heritage by our National Motto has no basis in constitutional law.”
“Even the Supreme Court, in past decisions, has understood there is an unbroken history of official invocations of Divine guidance beginning with our founding fathers and continuing to our present day leaders,” Thompson said.
Discussing the case last November, Newdow told KWTV in Oklahoma City, “The key principle is that we’re supposed to treat everybody equally especially in terms of religious belief.”
“Clearly it’s not treating atheists equal with people who believe in God when you say ‘In God We Trust’ or we are a ‘nation under God,'” he insisted.
“People say, ‘Are you an atheist activist?’ And I’m not,” he continued. “I couldn’t care less what anyone believes. I just care that our government treats everybody equally.”
Last September, in Newdow’s second challenge against the Pledge of Allegiance, a federal judge in Sacramento ruled the reciting of the pledge in public schools is unconstitutional.
The pledge’s reference to one nation “under God” violates school children’s right to be “free from a coercive requirement to affirm God,” said U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton.
Karlton granted legal standing to two families represented by Newdow, who lost his previous battle before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The judge, nominated to his seat by President Carter in 1979, said he was bound by the precedent of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ in 2002, which favored Newdow.
In 2004, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Newdow’s case 8-0 because he did not have legal standing to represent his daughter, who is under sole custody of her mother.
In January 2005, however, Newdow filed a complaint in federal court in Sacramento with eight new co-plaintiffs, seeking to remove “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance on the grounds it violates the so-called “separation of church and state.”