Court Rules That “Under God” Can Remain in the Pledge March 12, 2010

Court Rules That “Under God” Can Remain in the Pledge

Nearly 10 years ago, in 2002, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance was unconstitutional.

Chaos ensued, atheist Michael Newdow represented himself in front of the Supreme Court, and the case was ultimately thrown out because the court ruled he didn’t have proper standing (i.e. he didn’t have full custody of his daughter whom he was filing the lawsuit on behalf of) to bring the issue to them.

A couple years later, Newdow tried again, on behalf of additional plaintiffs who did have standing.

The result of the second lawsuit was announced yesterday.

The same Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has now ruled 2-1 that the phrase is constitutional.

In the majority opinion, Judge Carlos Bea acknowledged that “the words ‘under God’ have religious significance,” but said they do not “convert the pledge into a prayer.”

The 1954 law that added those words at the height of the Cold War was meant to convey the idea of a limited government, “in stark contrast to the unlimited power exercised by communist forms of government,” said Bea, joined by Judge Dorothy Nelson. “Congress’ ostensible and predominant purpose was to inspire patriotism.”

[Judge Stephen] Reinhardt, a member of the 2002 panel that found the language unconstitutional, said Thursday’s majority ignored overwhelming evidence of religious motivation by the 1954 Congress.

Here’s the decision (PDF).

I’m no lawyer… but seriously, what the hell.

How is inserting “Under God” in the anti-godless/Communist 1950s not religiously motivated?!

What will Newdow do now? He will “ask the appeals court to rehear the case. If it rejects that request, Newdow said he’ll appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.”

None of those options are likely going to work right now, even though the lawsuit has merit.

Hopefully, someone will try again in the future and succeed.

Meanwhile, I’m still not saying the Pledge. I hope you don’t either.

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  • Jeff Dale

    The whole pledge should be revised or discarded. Many people see red when they hear that, but even they ought to agree, if they understood. “Under god” is problematic enough. But the object of the pledge is a nation and its flag, not the principles on which the nation was founded that are the reasons we support it. It’s the latter that we should pledge to uphold, if anything. Surely the vast majority of Americans across the ideological spectrum would not want to support America if it became fascist, for example. But that’s exactly what the pledge would commit us to in that event.

    Every time some kid gets in the news for refusing to pledge, I wish this point would be made, but it’s usually not. Failing to make that point just allows the opposition to paint the kid as unpatriotic or unprincipled.

  • Kim

    You know, I’m just not comfortable with the pledge regardless of those two words being a part of it. I know that’s not a popular opinion at all, but there it is. I know it was actually penned by a Christian socialist, but the whole concept of a pledge of allegiance seems vaguely fascist, honestly. Or not so vaguely, really. ‘Euphemistically’ may be more accurate. At any rate, the rote memorization and recitation of it as a compulsory component of most Amercian children’s schooling…. yeah. Never loved that, “under God” or not.

  • Jeremy

    I simply leave out the “under god” but still say the pledge when i find it appropriate. It is, however, unfortunate that I cannot make it blatantly obvious that i am NOT saying “under god”.

  • Andy

    Hahaha I hope this does go to the Supreme court so I can hear Scalia spell out why this isn’t religious.

    Reminder, only Liberals can be activist judges.

  • Jeremy

    Yeah, Kim has a point. I have always considered the pledge (at least in schools) to be a blatant indoctrination of nationalism.

  • Say it this way and you’ll end the same time the people saying “under God” do.

    I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty, equality and justice for all.

  • I found a great video clip on this subject, along with an amusing historical note about the original method of saluting to it.

    Personally, I say the Pledge, but do not say “under God”. I have nothing against the Pledge, since the balance of it is secular and patriotic.

  • I find myself in kind of a weird place with the pledge. I’m presently student teaching in a (public) district where I’m at the middle school in the morning, and just about every day the pledge is said. I generally make it a point to mumble it through “one nation, indivisible”, finishing a metric foot or two before the rest of the reciters. But I’m still in kind of a vulnerable position, where many of the other teachers (I suspect my cooperating teacher in particular is pretty liberal about it), the administrators, and the relevant instructors at my university are believers — and all of these people have some degree of power to block my graduation or licensure, or at least to interfere with my acquisition of an actual job. And if I do get a real job, I’ll consider myself to be fairly vulnerable for a while (at least): even if they can’t legally fire me for that, I’d really rather be on good terms with administrators and coworkers.

    I know Hemant’s a fairly established teacher and if he’s at a high school I doubt the pledge even comes up very often, but what do other student / new / otherwise vulnerable teachers think? How should we handle the pledge in our classrooms?

  • Brian Smith

    I’ve always thought if we were going to pledge allegiance to anything, it should be the Constitution rather than the flag. But I agree that the whole concept of the pledge smacks of totalitarianism.

    And, I’m totally sure the Knights of Columbus only wanted to “convey the idea of a limited government” and “inspire patriotism” when they pushed to have those “under god” added to the pledge.

    On the bright side, if the religious people are now going to claim that the word “god” doesn’t have religious significance, maybe they’ll quit having the vapors every time someone says “goddamn”!

  • Verimius

    Surely we could take it out now since Communism is no longer a threat.

    Still, if Congress or the courts ever decided to take it out (an unlikely prospect), it would only encourage the usual morons to positively shout “under god” during the recitation.

  • codemenkey

    Are they seriously insinuating that one must have imaginary friends in order to be patriotic?

  • Reginald Selkirk

    The 1954 law that added those words at the height of the Cold War was meant to convey the idea of a limited government, “in stark contrast to the unlimited power exercised by communist forms of government,” said Bea, joined by Judge Dorothy Nelson. “Congress’ ostensible and predominant purpose was to inspire patriotism.”

    They are so smug in their grasp of theocratic power that they apparently don’t even try to make sense any more.

  • Robert Bryant

    As an atheist I am almost delighted by this ruling because I will continue to protest against the ignorance of religion and the ignorance of the United States by simply crossing it off my money with a black Sharpie. lol

  • In the 90’s currency was part of a lawsuit, and the judge ruled it wasn’t a religious phrase. The Supreme Court refused to hear the case. I wouldn’t be surprised if the supreme court refuses to hear this case.

  • Christi

    I’m just thankful that he is fighting for our rights. Kudos to Newdow and all of his efforts!

  • Aaron

    I never liked the idea of kids being “encouraged” to recite a loyalty oath every morning.

  • Miko

    @Sesoron: Freedom of speech is an interesting half-truth in the United States, or indeed in any regimented hierarchical society. As long as there are higher-ups who have arbitrary authority over you, it’s probable that you’ll never be simultaneously secure and free. So, at some point you have to decide which is more important to you. On the day that the BU trustees voted to give Howard Zinn tenure, he was outside the building leading an anti-Vietnam War protest against the trustee’s meeting and their invited guest (LBJ’s Sec. of State Dean Rusk). By contrast, mumbling a bit while reciting the loyalty oath is a small risk.

    At the very beginning of my (university-level) teaching career, I was on-stage at an event that began with a recitation of the pledge and so was seen by a large crowd as the blatantly obviously silent person in the middle of a line of reciters. Has it hurt my career? Not as far as I know, but at any rate I honestly don’t care if it has. Decide what is and isn’t worth standing up for in your life and act accordingly.

  • Neon Genesis

    I also agree they should scrap the pledge entirely. Unless you’re in the military or a politician or something, I don’t see the point in it other than political indoctrination of children. We don’t say it at all in college and the world hasn’t ended yet. Why do parents always freak out about the pledge in elementary through high school but nobody cares at all that you don’t say it in college anyway?

  • CypherSD

    I never say the pledge either, and it has nothing to do with “under god” (though, I understand it can be fun to say and just skip ahead – really throws everyone off their rhythm). The reality is, in the 1950’s we looked around and saw a bunch of kids with their hands in a salute pledging themselves to a flag, and we couldn’t tell if they were in Washington DC, Moscow, Beijing, or Havana. Upset that our kids looked like a bunch of communists, we decided to toss the whole un-American pledge. No wait, we didn’t. Instead we decided to toss god into mix. Yeah, now school doesn’t look like a Young Communists Committee meeting! The pledge is *not* patriotic – it is nationalistic and goes entirely against the founding principles of this country.

  • muggle

    You know, I’m with you, Hemant. Up to now, I’ve been saying it without saying the “under god” horseshit. But I’m so fed up, that, hell with it, I’m not saying it at all.

    Nowhere. Not if I go to a Town Board meeting. Not at any of my grandson’s school events. Nowhere. I’ll just quietly sit it out and not make a fuss. If someone tells me to stand, I’ll either ignore them or say no thank you but I’m not saying it and I’m not rising.

    If they make a big to-do, so be it.

  • Allison

    I heard about this on the radio yesterday and they interviewed a bunch of people, all of who supported the ruling. Nearly everyone said something along the lines of “I think it’s great because that’s what our country was founded on”. Apparently these people are ignorant of the fact that god is never mentioned and that there was no reference to god in the pledge until the 50’s. Let’s educate the nation!

  • Edmond

    Where exactly is everybody saying this pledge? I vaguely remember it from grade school, but by junior high I have no memory of it. No event I have ever attended in my adult life has asked anyone to recite it, not even a ballgame. I see Muggle’s mention of town board meetings and school events, which I confess I don’t go to. I was a teaching assistant in public school for a while in the 90’s, but it was for the special ed class, and certainly those kids would never have been expected to participate. However, we did take the class to many school events in the gymnasium, and I don’t recall ever seeing it performed there, either. I would sort of love the opportunity to display my atheist activism by refusing to participate, but it’s never come up!

  • @Sesoron,

    Hey, I completely understand where you’re coming from. I finished up my student teaching last May, and felt the same way at the time. Luckily, I wasn’t in a classroom when the pledge was said (I was in the teacher’s lounge), so, if we stood up to recite it, I usually just was quiet during the “Under God” part.

    While I haven’t found a teaching job yet, I still come across that problem as a substitute teacher. I think it’s even more scary as a sub because these students and teachers only get to know you for the bit of time you’re there.

    It really depends on how the school is. Do you think the school would really care or not? I couldn’t imagine the teachers at the school I student taught at to be too concerned about it, but the schools I go to to sub? They’re an entirely different story.

    They’re the conservative, religious right people who wouldn’t appreciate how I deal with the pledge. So, when I go into the classroom, I try to situate myself so that I’m either in the very back where the students can’t see me, or in the very front where they can’t see my mouth, and just do what I normally do.

  • I do not recite the pledge and stopped doing it well over a decade before I deconverted. Even as a Christian, the idiocy of participating in that was readily apparent to me. Go figure.
    I have no problem with the national anthem (I actually enjoy it), but there’s no way I’m going to pray to a piece of cloth. It’s even more stupid and demeaning (to me) than praying to a god.

  • But the phrase ‘Under God’ was added to the pledge for political reasons, to further delineate western civilization from that of the Communist Bloc. The hostility toward atheism in this country is the result of defining our enemies as atheists, not from defining atheists as our enemies. It was a feature of Communist nations that could be exploited in the 1950’s for propaganda purposes. It transformed a general discomfort with atheism that probably existed across the country to a genuine hatred and fear of them as they became identified with the enemy, the Soviet Union.

    So technically it wasn’t the exploitation of the state by religion, but rather an exploitation of religion by the state. So if anyone should oppose the inclusion of ‘Under God’ into the pledge it should be the religions that have been exploited into becoming propaganda machines for the empire.

  • Ron in Houston

    Let me say this – 2 to 1 is what’s known as a “panel” decision. When a case is assigned to a court of appeals a 3 judge panel is assigned to hear it.

    Don’t give up on this one yet. That panel may have consisted of some of the more conservative justices.

    The case will likely be reviewed en banc – which means the whole court will hear it.

    Will the result be different? Beats me. I don’t bet on the horses and I don’t predict what a bunch of black robes will do.

  • ZombieGirl

    I went to Catholic School from Kindergarten until 8th grade and we were required to say the pledge every day. To me, the pledge was just always empty words. I don’t feel like I should be loyal to a nation that I just happened to be born in. It wasn’t necessarily my choice.

    Towards the end of my years at that school, I would just say whatever words I wanted to, but to the rhythm of the pledge. ^^

  • Kid A

    Having any “Pledge of allegiance”, with or without the phrase “under God” is bizarre anyway. Are there any other countries that have ever had such a weird thing, where one’s patriotism is defined by mere conformity?

    I pay my taxes, I vote according my conscience, I am a law-abiding citizen and I contribute in what ways I can to my community, locally as well as in the larger view. But that isn’t enough? You want my heart and soul as well? Sorry, it isn’t for sale. If that makes me unpatriotic, so be it.

  • Greg

    As a non American, the fixations you guys seem to have with chants (sorry, the pledge), and idols (sorry, flags) has always struck me as a little odd. 😉

    And, more seriously, sometimes queasy.

  • Brett

    As an Evangelical Christian I have been examining whether or not I should say the Pledge, but for different reasons than what I’ve been reading here. Since I try to live out what the Bible says, I see in the Bible to not take an oath… a quote made by Jesus and later by his brother James.

    So I’ve been asking myself:
    *Does the Pledge of Allegiance fall under the “don’t take any oaths, but instead just live honestly by your word” (my paraphrase) command?

    *Am I an American who happens to be a Christian, or am I a Christian who happens to be an American? If I am indeed the latter then that helps me to filter out some of the America-first stuff that my religious tradition sadly tries to push.

    I welcome any thoughts/feedback.

  • As a non American, the fixations you guys seem to have with chants (sorry, the pledge), and idols (sorry, flags) has always struck me as a little odd.

    But we got nothing else besides shopping and blind patriotism/faith. Most non Americans tend to have a real culture to invest in. That’s one thing we never invested in here.

  • vivian

    I think maybe they should take some time and regroup. Think about this from a different angle. Instead of having an atheist try to take ‘under god’ out of the pledge, why not look for an open-minded christian (yeah, I know…sounds like an oxymoron, but it’s possible) and try to file a lawsuit to have the pledge put back to its orginal form. Religion doesn’t have to be the cause of the change, just respect for the way it was orginally intended. Just a thought.

  • fritzy

    I don’t recite the pledge, and taking “under gawd” out wont change that–I don’t recite loyalty oaths and I feel no allegiance to a tacky flag or any republic, particularly one that I happen to be a citizen of by accident of birth.

    I do feel loyalty to many of the precepts that this nation (at least in theory) stands for, such as freedom of thought and speech, equality under the law, trial by jury, etc–the stuff of liberal constitutional democracies. But those are qualities that can be lost, at which point I would feel no allegiance to the country in which I resided.

    As for Newdow’s fight–as I’ve said before–take on some of the larger problems of church-state seperation–that way you don’t look like a petty ass, and eventually the mainstream is asking to take references to invisible sky monsters out of government pledges and off currency.

  • Slickninja

    The pledge of allegiance is something I think a large body of atheists/agnostics would oppose with or without the under god, as as nationalism is easily confused with religiosity.

    I’m old enough that we still said it in Oregon when I was fairly young although we did away with it by the time I hit middle school. I recall parroting pledge of alliance, making up faux-limericks to it. Even as a kid, the idea seemed absurd.

  • Alex

    The country was founded on the basis of Freedom OF religion. Not freedom FROM religion. Our culture may be secular now, but our country should remain under the authority of a higher power. It is already apparent what a “reality with no consequences” has done to this nation in the world, its been destroyed. Thank God that most of us still fear the rule of a higher power, be it the Christian God or the authorities in others religion. Instead of worrying about the pledge allegiance infringing upon your rights, maybe you guys should worry more about rights that are being taken away by the progressive movement that will actually affect our everyday lives.

  • Baconsbud

    I am really getting tired of this freedom of religion but not freedom from religion crap. You people need to read the 1st amendment. ” Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Lets look at what it means to respect an establishment of religion. That means that the courts and congress will not respect religion when it comes to governing this country. If someone applies their religious beliefs when it comes to the governing of this country they are violating the the US Constitution and their oath to defend that same document. To me that means if you place anything above the Constitution you are acting against it when it comes to governing the people of this nation. Religion should be the third thing when it comes to making a decision about actions taken within this country. The first is the Constitution then the effect it will have on the people and then you can look at religion. You say it says freedom of religion only but what it says religion doesn’t have to be respected in regards to this nation. Until christians can accept this you will continue to find those that call you on your lies.

  • Smarmodon

    I am a senior in public high school now and I can honestly say that I couldn’t care less. It is considered “uncool” to say the pledge anyway, so no one says it, and even if you do you are not forced to say “under God”. In classes where the teacher makes us stand up and say it, I just don’t say the “under God” part. We’re all murmuring anyway, so no one can hear each other. As long as it’s a choice, let it be. There’s more important stuff to fight for.
    Then again, I am in New York.

  • I had a brief internet ‘debate’ with a few theists (and even one atheist) who thought that the Pledge was just fine because it didn’t specify *which* God, and it was therefore inclusive. A typical ‘We don’t mind what religion you are, as long as you *are* religious’ attitude. Plus there was the usual ‘If we remove Under God then it will be promoting an Atheism over theism, which we can’t have.’ I really just want to hit some people over the head with a relly big ‘Get a Clue’ stick. Anyone know of you can get them on eBay?

  • Steve

    The ruling enshrines in judicial precedent the irrational notion that official speech (a pledge endorsed by Congress and recited in public schools) referring to religious concepts is not religious. It is political (i.e. an expression of patriotism).

    When I next stub my toe and shout “Jeezus Goddamn M- F- Christ!” as I am wont to do, is that free of religious implications, or does this only extend to official speech? Also, I was thinking of using that exact phrasing in a political context right about now.

    Ahh, freedom.

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