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Excerpts from Pledge of Allegiance ruling

By The Associated Press
06.15.04

Excerpts from the Supreme Court's ruling disallowing a challenge to the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance.

From the main opinion written by Justice John Paul Stevens:

This case concerns not merely (Michael) Newdow's interest in inculcating his child with his view of religion, but also the rights of the child's mother as a parent generally and under (a lower court's) orders specifically.

And most important, it implicates the interests of a young child who finds herself at the center of a highly public debate over her custody, the propriety of a widespread national ritual, and the meaning of our Constitution.

Legal discord in family relations is not uncommon, and in many instances that disharmony poses no bar to federal court adjudication of proper federal questions. What makes this case different is that Newdow's standing derives entirely from his relationship with his daughter, but he lacks the right to litigate as her next friend.


From an opinion written by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist concurring in part and dissenting in part:

The Court today erects a novel prudential standing principle in order to avoid reaching the merits of the constitutional claim. I dissent from that ruling. On the merits, I conclude that the Elk Grove Unified School District policy that requires teachers to lead willing students in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, which includes the words 'under God,' does not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

The phrase 'under God' in the pledge seems, as a historical matter, to sum up the attitude of the nation's leaders, and to manifest itself in many of our public observances. Examples of patriotic invocations of God and official acknowledgments of religion's role in our nation's history abound.


From a separate concurrence written by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor:

The Court has permitted government, in some instances, to refer to or commemorate religion in public life. While the Court's explicit rationales have varied, my own has been consistent; I believe that although these references speak in the language of religious belief, they are more properly understood as employing the idiom for essentially secular purposes. One such role is to commemorate the role of religion in our history.

Certain ceremonial references to God and religion in our nation are the inevitable consequence of the religious history that gave birth to our founding principles of liberty.

"It would be ironic indeed if this Court were to wield our constitutional commitment to religious freedom so as to sever our ties to the traditions developed to honor it.


From a separate concurrence written by Justice Clarence Thomas:

Through the pledge policy, the state has not created or maintained any religious establishment, and neither has it granted government authority to an existing religion.

The pledge policy does not expose anyone to the legal coercion associated with an established religion.


Related

Excerpts from oral arguments in Pledge case

Partial transcript of questions, remarks by U.S. Supreme Court justices, attorneys in Elk Grove Unified School Dist. v. Newdow. 03.25.04

High court: Atheist can't challenge 'God' in Pledge
In concurring opinion in Elk Grove Unified School Dist. v. Newdow, Rehnquist, O'Connor, Thomas say oath is constitutional. 06.14.04

California atheist fails in quest to topple Pledge
By Tony Mauro High court leaves door open for future challenges, but at least four justices would likely uphold phrase 'under God.' 06.15.04

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