- The Washington Times - Monday, June 14, 2004

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously yesterday that the words “under God” shall remain in the Pledge of Allegiance, overruling a lower court that declared the phrase was a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. But the majority of the justices did so on the issue of standing — the right to bring suit — saying that the non-custodial parent did not have the right to sue on his daughter’s behalf.

Justices William Rehnquist, Sandra Day O’Connor and Clarence Thomas concurred in judgment, but under different explanations. They concluded that the child’s father, Michael Newdow, did in fact have standing, but the phrase was not a violation of the separation of church and state outlined in the First Amendment. Justice Antonin Scalia withdrew from the case because of comments he made in a speech last summer supporting the phrase.

The history of the case has been lengthy. Mr. Newdow, a California physician, sued the Elk Grove Unified School District in the Sacramento, Calif., area because his daughter participated in a voluntary, albeit teacher-led, recitation of the pledge, which he perceived as the religious indoctrination of his child. The magistrate judge concluded the pledge is constitutional and Mr. Newdow did not have standing. A District Court agreed and dismissed the complaint. But the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision. The child’s mother, Sandra Benning, intervened at this point, challenging Mr. Newdow’s right to bring suit, since she is the sole custodian of their daughter. However, the 9th Circuit Court held its decision.

In their opinion, delivered by Justice John Paul Stevens, the Supreme Court ruled that child custody is traditionally a state matter and Mr. Newdow did not have standing as defined by California law. This page warned in an April editorial that the court might choose to rule on that issue, ignoring the constitutional merits of the case and refraining from entering the current emotive debate about religion in the public arena.

As Justice O’Connor stated in her concurrence: “Some references to religion in public life and government are the inevitable consequences of our Nation’s origins … Eradicating such references would sever ties to a history that sustains this Nation even today.” We agree.

The lawsuits attacking public acknowledgment of the religious heritage of this country in recent years are too numerous to list. Ultimately, there must be a ruling on the merits of the issue, and in that case we urge the court to preserve the traditions developed to honor this country’s commitment to religious freedom.

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