One Nation Under God: Newdow v. United States Congress--A Poorly Chosen Battle in the War Over Separation of Church and State

Russell W. Johnson

Volume 1 - Spring 2003


     On June 26, 2002, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals shocked the nation by ruling that the Pledge of Allegiance--the same Pledge that has been recited by public school students for nearly 50 years--is unconstitutional. The case, Newdow v. U.S. Congress, was brought by Michael Newdow, a minister of atheism who takes offense at the phrase "under God" in the Pledge. Newdow claimed injury because the state has interfered with his right to direct the religious upbringing of his eight-year-old daughter by subjecting her to the recitation of the Pledge in her public school. The Ninth Circuit agreed and held that the addition of the words "under God" to the Pledge in 1954, and a California school district's policy of requiring students to recite the Pledge daily, violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
     Initially Newdow appeared to be a major victory for those desiring a high wall of separation between church and state, but winning this battle could ultimately cost Newdow and other separationists the war. The case is likely to be overturned and has created a public backlash that will benefit efforts to lessen the degree of separation that currently exists. For that reason, Michael Newdow's lawsuit was a poorly chosen battle in the war over separation of church and state.
Cite as: 1 First Amend. L. Rev. 155 (2003)
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