Reciting The Pledge of Allegiance at important ceremonies is of great sentimental value to many Americans. The words “under God” were not included in the original version of the pledge which was created in 1892. Today, that phrase creates controversy among many parents, who view it as a religious issue as it is in the case of Elk Grove School District v. Newdow. Children need to learn and understand the significance of patriotism and freedom in America. It is a requirement in the elementary school for teachers to lead children in a daily routine of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance before the classes begin. Essentially, Elk Grove School considers the pledge a part of their syllabus. Michael Newdow, an atheist, has a daughter who participates in this daily recitation exercise. Newdow claims that the policy established by the school violates the First Amendment due to inclusion of the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance.
According to him, this phrase instructed her daughter to follow a religious ground without considering the role of her parents in her religious beliefs. As such, Newdow filed a suit on the basis of the violation of Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses provided by the constitution. The case was concluded where the Magistrate Judge ruled that Newdow lacks standing, citing that the Pledge of Allegiance was constitutional. However, the Court of Appeal refused the observation of the federal court reversed its decision (Mitchell, & Parker, 2005). The petitioner, the school district requires every student to recite the pledge every day; the school always begin with the oath. The respondent, Newdow, who does not believe in God filed a case stating that he has the right under law to sue the school on behalf of himself and his daughter as “the next friend” for the violation of the First Amendment.
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There are different courts that the case went through before reaching the Supreme Court. First, the lawsuit was initially filed as Newdow v. Elk Grove Unified School District, et al. in March 2000. This case was ruled on by a U.S. Magistrate’s court Judge who found that the Pledge was unconstitutional where the District Court dismissed the case in June 200. Consequently, Newdow appealed the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in 2002; here, the court reversed the district court’s judgment and concluded that the words “under God” violates the Establishment Clause and that Newdow has the standing to represent his daughter as “the next friend.” The Supreme Court then took the case in order to determine whether Newdow has standing as a non-custodial parent to speak on behalf of his child and whether the district school’s policy offends the First Amendment (United States, 2002). The case was dismissed by the Supreme Court on the basis of procedural law having ruled that Newdow did not have the standing to represent his daughter.
The Court of Appeal agreed with Newdow and permission to investigate the First Amendment issue was granted. Additionally, the question whether Newdow has the right to present the case on behalf of his daughter due to the custody agreement was solved. The Ninth Circuit held that, as a parent, Newdow has the standing to object a practice that undermines his right to teach his daughter the religious education. Moreover, the Court of Appeal states that the policy established by the school district is indeed contrary to what is stated in the Establishment Clause (Bishop, 2007). The court also observed that in his ruling, the Magistrate Judge did not take into account Newdow “next Friend” status to his daughter. The California Federal Court also failed to restore the rights of Newdow as the parent to direct his daughter on religious matters.
According to the United States Supreme Court, nothing that the district school or the child’s mother has done to deprive Newdow his right to take part in his daughter’s religious education. The Supreme Court reversed the ruling of the Court of Appeal of the Ninth Circuit and dismissed the case on the technical matter. The Supreme Court argued that Newdow does not have the legal capacity to speak on behalf of his daughter. In addition, his daughter voluntarily participates in this daily exercise with no complaint, which makes it difficult for the Newdow suit. Newdow could not also bring the case on behalf of himself due to the fact that Sandra was the sole legal custodian of the child at the time. This was a relief for many Americans since a win for Newdow would spark the need for changing the constitution (Mitchell, & Parker, 2005). Many were of the opinion that the words “under God” do not offend anyone as it was unanimously passed by Congress. In his defense, Newdow claims that there are no atheist politicians and therefore their views are not represented in Congress.
There were various reactions from the ruling of this case made by the Supreme Court. Many felt that the court the constitutional issue which should have been addressed once and for all for the nation. Moreover, many argued that no student should feel compelled by school officials to align themselves to a particular religious belief. The Supreme Court showed a lack of principle which left the whole society wondering if the words “under God” will be found unconstitutional in another challenge brought under the correct procedural laws (United States, 2002). As such, the court ought to have decided on whether reciting the words “under God” are a violation of the Establishment Clause, instead of avoiding the case altogether. This left an open floor for any challenger following the right procedures to file cases against the pledge of allegiance. On the other hand, if the case was ruled in favor of Newdow, then constitution amendment would have become necessary.
The Pledge of Allegiance should be allowed in public schools as it is a daily exercise in show of respect to the US, and this is even though it has religious undertones. However, no child should feel compelled to participate in this routine against their will. Many kids would like to opt out of this exercise, but the pressure from society and teachers encourage them not to. No one should be forced to recite the pledge; every individual should have the right to choose and practice their religion. As such, there should be freedom in the recitation exercise where those who feel violated by the phrases in the pledge should be allowed to abstain from reciting (Bishop, 2007). It is important to recognize that while there are people who will not pledge to anything else, but God; others do not believe in God. Therefore, making a person recite the pledge which does not align with their beliefs will not help accomplish anything. The pledge should remain part of the school system, but it should not be compulsory to anyone. It should be left for free will and depending on religious beliefs.
The Pledge of Allegiance is an important part of the American society and a symbol of unity for all the citizens of the United States. In addition, it has maintained of sentimental value to the people since its creation in 1892. However, in recent years, there has been criticism on the pledge, especially on the words “under God.” Many critics argue that these words represent religious indoctrination. It compels people to align themselves with a particular religion, despite the fact that people have diverse religious beliefs. However, the court claim that these words do not offend anyone as it was unanimously passed by Congress. The decision in the case filed by Newdow left questions to many about the future of the Pledge of Allegiance.
Bishop, R. (2007). Taking on the Pledge of Allegiance: The news media and Michael Newdow's Constitutional challenge . Albany: State University of New York Press.
Mitchell, K., & Parker, W. (2005). I Pledge Allegiance To ... Flexible Citizenship and Shifting Scales of Belonging . Vancouver: Metropolis British Columbia.
United States. (2002). An Act to Reaffirm the Reference to One Nation under God in the Pledge of Allegiance . Washington, D.C.: U.S. G.P.O...