SAN FRANCISCO An atheist who sued because he did not want his young daughter exposed to the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance has filed another lawsuit this time with other parents.
Michael Newdow won his case more than two years ago before a federal appeals court, which said it was an unconstitutional blending of church and state for public school students to pledge to God.
In June, however, the U.S. Supreme Court tossed the case, Elk Grove Unified School Dist. v. Newdow, saying Newdow could not lawfully sue because he did not have custody of his elementary school-aged daughter, on whose behalf he sued, and because the girl’s mother objected to the suit.
In the latest challenge filed in Sacramento federal court on Jan. 3, eight co-plaintiffs have joined the suit, and all are custodial parents or the children themselves, Newdow said.
The plaintiffs’ names have been withheld from the suit.
“It’s because of the potential adverse impacts of having your name on a case like this. That’s why they are not named,” Newdow said yesterday in a telephone interview.
He had promised to refile when the Supreme Court dismissed his case this summer.
“I want this decided on its merits,” said Newdow, a doctor and a lawyer, who again is the attorney in the latest pledge case.
Scholars said Newdow’s odds of prevailing are slim.
When the Supreme Court tossed the case, three justices Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Clarence Thomas made clear they would have upheld the religious reference Congress inserted into the pledge in 1954. A fourth justice, Antonin Scalia, removed himself from the case after making off-the-bench remarks that seemed to telegraph his view the pledge is constitutional.
The phrase “one nation under God” is more about ceremony and history than about religion, Rehnquist wrote. He likened the phrase to the motto “In God We Trust” on U.S. currency, and to the call that opens each session of the high court itself: “God save this honorable court.”
Vickram Amar, a constitutional scholar at Hastings College of the Law, said “This case starts with a 0-4 handicap from the Supreme Court’s point of view. Lower court judges are not going to be oblivious to that.”
No court date is set.
The case is Newdow v. Congress, 05-00017.