Newdow v. United States

In Newdow v. United States, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that the 1954 statute inserting the language “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. While the Supreme Court later overturned this case, it did so only because it found that Newdow did not have the legal standing to bring suit in the first place, and in reversing the decision the Court did not discuss the merits of Newdow’s First Amendment claim. Newdow was an atheist whose daughter attended public school in California. In accordance with state law, the school district had a policy that required all teachers to recite the Pledge with their students at least once per day. The Pledge was first codified in 1942 and did not contain the portion “under God” after the word “nation” until it was amended in 1954. According to the legislative history of the 1954 amendment, the words “under God” were added “to further acknowledge the dependence of our people and our Government upon the moral directions of the Creator.” The Ninth Circuit found that the 1954 statute violated the Establishment Clause because the Pledge conveys government endorsement of monotheism, may appear to a non-believer as government coercion of a particular religious orthodoxy, and was created for a religious purpose. The Supreme Court has yet to address the validity of the Ninth Circuit’s holding.

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