[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Wednesday that the words “one state under God” in the Texas Pledge of Allegiance do not violate the First Amendment [text] of the US Constitution, upholding a 2009 district court opinion [text, PDF]. A Texan couple filed the suit against the state, arguing that the pledge violated the separation of church and state mandated in the Establishment Clause [Cornell LII backgrounder]. The couple claimed that their school-age children were harmed [Dallas News report] by being required to recite the pledge at school, particularly if the children refused to participate. The appeals court ruled:
The pledge is a patriotic exercise, and it is made no less so by the acknowledgment of Texas’s religious heritage via the inclusion of the phrase “under God.” A pledge can constitutionally acknowledge the existence of, and even value, a religious belief without impermissibly favoring that value or belief, without advancing belief over non-belief, and without coercing participation in a religious exercise. Texas’s pledge is of this sort and consequently survives this challenge.
The controversial words were added to the Texas Pledge of Allegiance in 2007 [TSL backgrounder].
Earlier this year, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] that a teacher-led recitation of the national Pledge of Allegiance [text; JURIST news archive] in public schools does not violate the constitution [JURIST report]. 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. In 2008, the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit [official website] upheld [JURIST report] part of a Florida law [text] that requires students in grades kindergarten through 12 to obtain parental permission before they can be excused from reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. The court held that another provision requiring all students to stand, even if excused from reciting the Pledge, violates the First Amendment, and is therefore not enforceable.