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Pledge plaintiff asks court to reinstate suit over inauguration prayers

By The Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Michael Newdow, the Sacramento man who challenged the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, is now appealing the dismissal of another religious lawsuit he filed seeking to bar references to God at presidential inaugurations.

On July 3, Newdow, an emergency room doctor, handed paperwork and a $105 processing fee to a court clerk in Sacramento to appeal the May dismissal.

That case, Newdow v. Bush, is one of three First Amendment-related lawsuits he has in the courts, including the Pledge of Allegiance suit in which he claimed the phrase "under God" violates the Constitution's separation of church and state. On June 26, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed — at least temporarily — and ruled the pledge unconstitutional.

Since the ruling, Newdow has made the media rounds. He's given about a dozen print interviews, chatted on TV morning shows and listened to irate callers call him names on talk radio. He's battled with the hosts of "Crossfire," and explained his views to Connie Chung. Bill O'Reilly of Fox TV said Newdow "may be the most despised man in America."

Yet Newdow has remained calm and focused. He said this is because there is another case that matters more to him. Newdow v. Banning pits the fervent atheist against the Christian mother of his 8-year-old daughter.

For three years, Newdow has been engaged in a custody dispute with Sandra Banning of Elk Grove. Newdow and Banning never married, but they had a little girl Newdow describes as "the most incredible, wonderful child you can imagine."

Newdow shares custody of his daughter but says he gets far below his goal of equal time and is "punished" for being more financially successful than Banning.

"These so-called experts have no more proven ability to determine what's in the best interest of the child than anyone else off the street," said Newdow.

Banning declined to comment, referring calls to her attorney, Paul Sullivan of Washington, D.C., who did not return repeated phone calls.

Banning released her first public comments July 11, stating that her daughter is a Christian who "expressed sadness" over the court's decision. Banning also said she had hired Foley & Lardner, a high-powered Washington, D.C., law firm that in the past has supported conservative political causes. And she established a pledge defense fund to cover her legal costs.

The pledge ruling is currently on hold. But Newdow has plenty to keep him busy. His three First Amendment cases — the one challenging prayer at presidential inaugurations, the pledge case and one challenging Congress' ability to pass resolutions that he claims endorse religion — take only a small part of his time.

"I spend most of my time trying to see my daughter," he said. "People can call me anything they want, but I'm not a bad father."

Pledge plaintiff loses bid to revive inaugural-prayer lawsuit
9th Circuit panel says Michael Newdow didn't suffer 'a sufficiently concrete and specific injury' to challenge clergy-led prayer at presidential inaugurations. 02.24.04


Pledge of Allegiance ruling put on hold

Author of controversial opinion stays decision, preventing it from taking effect until 9th Circuit decides how to respond to calls for rehearing. 06.28.02

Judges surprised by furor over Pledge decision
Two 9th Circuit judges say politics, public fears have intensified controversy beyond their expectations. 07.18.02

Public prayers on state occasions need not be divisive or generic
By Charles C. Haynes Debate over prayers offered at President Bush’s inauguration is yet another reminder of just how diverse and contentious America has become in the 21st century. 02.11.01

Constitutional crossroads: where 'under God' meets 'justice for all'
By Ken Paulson Pledge of Allegiance's religious phrase shouldn't have been inserted in 1954, but in 2002 it's a little late to change it. 06.28.02

The pledge flap: Let's brush up our civics
By Charles C. Haynes Many of us need to relearn that respecting the flag means respecting the rights of others, even those with whom we deeply disagree. 07.03.02

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