The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review a federal court decision barring school-sponsored recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance because of its religious language.
On Oct. 14, the high court announced that it will hear arguments in a case involving Michael Newdow, a California public school parent who contends that the words "under God" in the Pledge render it unsuitable for public schools. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Newdow and in June of 2002 barred public school teachers from leading their students in recitation of the Pledge. The 9th Circuit said the words "under God," which Congress added to the Pledge in 1954, made the patriotic ritual unconstitutional for public school officials to sponsor.
Justice Antonin Scalia recused himself from involvement in the case, apparently for making a prior conclusion about the dispute. In January, the Richmond-Times Dispatch reported that at a "Religious Freedom Day" event in Fredericksburg, Va., Scalia attacked the 9th Circuit's Pledge ruling as "judicial fiat," and proclaimed that the First Amendment "was once well-understood not to exclude God from the public forum and from public life."
Americans United for Separation of Church and State has filed briefs with the 9thCircuit and the Supreme Court arguing that the decision barring public school sponsorship of the Pledge should be upheld.
"This case gives the Supreme Court an opportunity to remind all Americans of the importance of freedom of conscience," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "No one should feel coerced to take part in a religious exercise to express patriotism. A country founded on religious freedom should not be afraid to recognize that love of God and love of country are not the same for some people. Requiring a daily religious loyalty test for school children is simply wrong."
Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow will be argued in February or March of 2004 and decided by next summer.