[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Thursday that a teacher-led recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools does not violate the constitution. Sacramento atheist Michael Newdow [JURIST news archive] had challenged the practice on behalf of several families, arguing that the phrase "under God" violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment [text]. In reversing a lower court decision [JURIST report] that had ruled in Newdow's favor, the appeals court ruled 2-1:
that the Pledge of Allegiance does not violate the Establishment Clause because Congress' ostensible and predominant purpose was to inspire patriotism and that the context of the Pledge – its wording as a whole, the preamble to the statute, and this nation's history—demonstrate that it is a predominantly patriotic exercise. For these reasons, the phrase "one Nation under God" does not turn this patriotic exercise into a religious activity.
Accordingly, we hold that California's statute requiring school districts to begin the school day with an "appropriate patriotic exercise" does not violate the Establishment Clause even though it permits teachers to lead students in recitation
of the Pledge.
In a separate case decided Thursday, the Ninth Circuit upheld [opinion, PDF] the use of the phrase "In God We Trust" on currency. That challenge was also brought by Newdow.
Newdow originally sued to have the phrase "under God" removed from the pledge in 2000. The Ninth Circuit ruled in Newdow's favor in 2002, but the Supreme Court dismissed his case [JURIST report] in 2004 for lack of standing. Newdow also filed suit to ban the recitation of a prayer during the 2005 presidential inauguration, but that claim was rejected [JURIST reports].