SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A federal judge yesterday set the stage for an atheist and three Sacramento-area school districts to take their dispute over the Pledge of Allegiance to an appeals court.
U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton said he would stay a ruling he made last month, meaning the schools can continue to have children recite the pledge. The case is Newdow v. Congress, 05-17.
In his previous finding, Karlton said he was bound by a 2002 ruling of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that the pledge is unconstitutional when recited in public schools because it contains the words "under God."
That lawsuit was brought by Sacramento atheist Michael Newdow, who is now representing two Sacramento-area families in a similar suit.
The school districts contend that Karlton isn't bound by that decision in the new lawsuit; Newdow says the judge is.
"We're pleased that he announced that he would immediately enter a stay of any injunction that he would enter so that the school district would not change its day-to-day procedure and would be able to keep reciting the Pledge of Allegiance," said Terrence Cassidy, the attorney representing the school districts.
Karlton set Oct. 26 as the date the school districts must file a motion to dismiss the case. Newdow, the attorney who is driving the case and representing the plaintiffs, must file documents proving his clients have standing to sue the schools by that date. Their names have been kept secret so far.
The losing party will then be able to appeal to the 9th Circuit.
Yesterday's setting of a deadline is the latest development in Newdow's attempt to ban the pledge from public schools.
A Sacramento doctor and lawyer who is an avowed atheist, Newdow says it is unconstitutional to recite the pledge in public schools because it contains the words "under God," making it an illegal endorsement of religion. He took his fight to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in 2004 in Elk Grove Unified School Dist. v. Newdow said he lacked standing to bring the case because he didn't have custody of his daughter.
He brought the latest lawsuit with a different set of plaintiffs, parents with children in the Elk Grove Unified School District, Rio Linda Unified School District and Elverta Unified School District.
Newdow said yesterday that simply removing the phrase "under God" from the pledge would confuse children.
"I think we need to gut the pledge and come up with a new unifying pledge," he said.
He said he had spoken to people who remembered when the phrase "under God" was added in 1954 and told him "it threw off the cadence and it was difficult for them."