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California court allows Pledge of Allegiance challenger to sue chaplain for libel

[JURIST] Atheist Michael Newdow [advocacy website; Time profile], the man who sued [OYEZ case backgrounder; JURIST report] to have the words "under God" removed from the Pledge of Allegiance [JURIST news archive], will be able to proceed with a libel lawsuit against a chaplain, according to a ruling [opinion, PDF] Tuesday by the California First District Court of Appeal [official website]. Newdow sued Reverend Austin Miles after Miles used a website to accuse Newdow of perjury while testifying under oath about the emotional effects suffered by his daughter from reciting the Pledge. Miles also said he thought Newdow should be punished for his lies under oath, leading Newdow to sue the chaplain for libel, denying that he made the comments suggested by Miles. Miles argued that his comments were a matter of free speech, but the California appeals court ruled that the "minimal merit" necessary to proceed with a libel suit was present due, in part, to Miles' use of the word "perjury" six times in his Internet post.

Miles has not indicated whether he plans to appeal the decision further. The justices noted that Newdow will have to prove that Miles acted with malice and that there was "substantial and injurious misquotation" in a libel suit against the chaplain. BCN has more.

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