Saturday, March 27, 2010

Court Clears Reciting of Pledge of Allegiance at Western Schools

The Pledge of Allegiance is recited by millions of students across the United States as a form of patriotism that goes back all the way to their first day of school. Usually before class begins, the principal’s voice on the intercom tells everyone to stand for the pledge; they recite it, and get on with their school day. Although, many students recite the pledge without a care about word context within each stanza, some parents view this as going against everything they stand for. So, the premise of this article focuses on a group of atheist parents from Sacramento, California viewing the pledge as indoctrinating their children about God and how the Court of Appeals ruled against them.

The case titled Newdow v. Rio Linda Union School District was brought into the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, California in December 2007. The argument stems from teacher-led reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance and the reciting of the phrase “one nation under God” that brought atheist parents together on the issue. The plantiff Michael Newdow, a prominent lawyer and atheist, has been pushing this case towards the Supreme Court in 2004. The justices dismissed his case on technical grounds causing him to look for other parents to strengthen his case. However, the 9th Court of Appeals did not see the pledge as a religious message but a traditional patriotic exercise as they ruled 2-1 against Newdow. The dissenting judge, Stephen Reinhardt saw the pledge as being overtly religious forcing many students to recite something they truly do not believe in. However, Newdow still is going to push this issue for rehearing and if that fails back to the Supreme Court, but he believes its pretty futile.

The big question this article presents deals with none other than the Establishment Clause. In the many court cases that we have read dealing with schools and religion from Engel v. Vitale to Everson v. Board of Education of Ewing TP, we see the Establishment Clause show how a mention of God or religion by the government in a public setting such as schools does not violate the law of separation of church and state. However, the Establishment Clause does fall under scrutiny as many of us has seen the Ten Commandments in Courthouses or prayer lead before the beginning of a high school football game i.e. Santa Fe Independent School District v. DOE.

When it comes to my opinion on the subject matter I believe that the 9th circuit Court of Appeals ruled this case pretty fairly. I believe that while some people see the pledge going against everything they stand for the schools can’t simply cater to the minority when it will greatly affect the majority. Unless the atheist parents could get everyone in the school system on their side on the issue then maybe I might reconsider my answer, but it seems that this will not be happening anytime soon.


John S. said...

The funny thing about this issue is that many additional elements are brought in that do not need to be there. It doesn't matter if the US is perceived to be a Christian nation, nor does it matter that some atheist parents are offended or that the pledge goes against their principles. The argument is not about who is more offended, its about the law.

The Constitution clearly states: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." In 1954, Congress passed a law establishing religion - One Nation (Under God). It doesn't matter if it is generic God or civil religion, it's religion plain and simple. Violations of the Establishment Clause do not get any clearer than this. Any interpretation other than a clear violation of the Establishment Clause is little more than word games and spin doctoring.

Dallas is correct in pointing out that the Atheists who oppose the current Pledge are an extreme minority. And if the vast majority either do not have a problem with the pledge or completely endorse the idea, then what's the big deal?

I would argue that if we want to make arguments about the founders and ideas about a Christian nation, it doesn't get more foundational than the first part of the first amendment. It states with no ambiguity that the govt cannot do what it did in 1954. This law fueling this issue should never have been allowed in the first place. To be blunt, if we can't even get this slam-dunk of a case resolved properly, the courts really have no business trying to adjudicate more opaque or nuanced challenges.

There are bountiful issues in the landscape of religion and American law that are indeed difficult to understand and draw clear lines between what is allowed or dissallowed with respect to law and religion; the Pledge case is simply not one of them.

Caitlin said...

My question is on the face of this case, if you were to apply the Lemon Test would it pass “secular purpose”? I understand that the pledge of allegiance is a patriotic symbol and if it really offends you, then you can just be silent during the ritual. But we saw the same debate with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Is the pledge a religious act all on its own showing undo reverence to your country? Some days it seems like it. However, that is not the question at stake here. Here the question is does “under g-d” make the pledge of allegiance religious? I personally do not think so. And for that matter, if you are an atheist parent then it is your duty, as it is every parent’s duty, to educate your own children in your views. If your child does not believe in your views then there is really nothing you can do about it anyway. Ms. Murray and her son come to mind here. Wild raving atheist who ends up (belatedly) murdered and her evangelical Protestant son…but I digress. Saying “under g-d” does not indoctrinate religion into these school kids. I remember mindlessly rattling off the pledge of allegiance, at one point saying the Lord’s Prayer, and singing My Country ‘Tis of Thee in the mornings and just wanting it to be over so I could sit down and be bored. I was not worried about the words. And I seriously doubt that any of these students are taking the time and effort to ruminate on the words coming out of their mouth. If young kids get confused it is your job as a parent to explains your own views, not the state’s. And for the matter, do you really want it to be the state’s job? But the biggest problem I have and have always had with this argument is simply “How are you offended if you don’t believe in any g-d”? Think of it or even say “under the sky” if it makes you feel better and get over it. You live in a country that has Christian history and is, at least on paper, a predominantly Christian country. If you really don’t like it, and it is that important to you, be like Ms. Murray and try to move to Russia…

JoeyM said...

After reading this post I began to realize that this issue will never be solved. Someone will always be upset with the result of any change. All we can do is look at the facts and make the best decision possible. Ignore the law figure out what makes the most sense in the long run and stick with it. Eventually this will cause the law to be amended. That is okay. Just because a law is in place does not mean that it needs to be. The great thing about the creators of the constitution is that they left room to grow. They foresaw the issues that might arise and allowed for change. The constitution is not the all powerful governing force of our nation, we are. As captain Barbosa says, "they are more like guidelines instead of rules". They are a tool to assist our falible selves in making a moral decision.