I Pledge Allegiance to the Flag
I Pledge Allegiance to the Flag
Religion and politics have always been highly contentious issues in the United States. The nation is constantly facing controversies regarding the two institutions such as the highly provocative activities of the Westboro Baptist Church or the cutthroat politics between the Democrats and Republicans in Capitol Hill. Despite this, the two institutions are some of the most important in the country and politicians and religious leaders are respected all over the United States. The issue of separating the church and the state has always aroused a strong debate in the country. Different people have questioned the extent to which the government of the United States separates itself from the Christian religion, especially considering the fact that the word “God” comes up several times in matters concerning the central administration. The case between Newdow and Elk Grove Unified School District is a good example of an instance where a party has questioned the link between religion and the state. In this case, Newdow questioned the constitutionality of the American Pledge of Allegiance, in light of the fact that it contains references to “God”.
Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow
Facts of the Case
Elk Grove Unified School District v Newdow was a case determined by the Supreme Court of the United States in 2004. The case started because the petitioning school district had a regulation in place where all elementary classes were supposed to recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the United States at the beginning of each day. The respondent to the case was involved because his daughter attended a school within the petitioning district, meaning that she was supposed to recite the pledge as well. The respondent raised an issue with this practice because he is an atheist and the pledge contain the words “under God” within it. Because of that statement, the respondent argued that the practice of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance was tantamount to religious indoctrination and therefore unconstitutional. The respondent particularly claimed that the practice of reciting the pledge was in violation of the clauses of establishment and free exercise (Elk Grove Unified School District. V. Newdow, n.d.).
The hearing of this case raised several issues regarding the issues of religion and the state in America. The respondent’s claim regarding religious indoctrination within the Pledge of Allegiance questioned the extent to which the constitution separated the church and the state (Russo & Mawdsley, 2007). Through the claim, the respondent also questioned the legality of the Pledge of Allegiance, arguing that it violated the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses in the constitution. Another key question raised in this case concerned the rights that noncustodial parents had over their children. Newdow was presenting the case on his own behalf and in his daughter’s stead as the “next friend”. Sandra Banning, the child’s mother, filed a motion in the Ninth Circuit disputing Newdow’s right to file a suit on behalf of his daughter, despite not having custody. Ultimately, this issue proved to be the deciding factor in the case (Russo & Mawdsley, 2007).
Courts involved in the case
Four different courts heard the case between Elk Grove Unified School District and Newdow. The plaintiffs first presented the case to a magistrate judge, Peter Nowinski. The judge ruled in favor of the school district and found that the Pledge of Allegiance was constitutional, meaning that school’s could make children recite it. The District Court agreed with this ruling and on 21 June 2000, judges dismissed the case. Newdow appealed this ruling, taking the case before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The decision of the Ninth Circuit differed with that of the lower courts. The judges ruled that, as a parent, Newdow had the right to question any practices that influences the religious education of his child in any way. Additionally, the judges in the Ninth Circuit ruled in favor of Newdow and agreed that the presence of the words “under God” in the pledge of allegiance was in contradiction to the Establishment Clause. A third issue brought before the Ninth Circuit, concerned the right of Newdow to file a suit involving his daughter, considering that the child’s mother held sole custody. The child’s mother filed a motion with the Ninth Circuit seeking to intervene with the proceedings and remove her daughter from the ongoing proceedings. However, the judges ruled that Newdow had a right to question the unconstitutional practices that affected his daughter, even though he did not have custody of the child.
Decision of the Supreme Court Bench
The Supreme Court of the United States delivered the final ruling in the case. The court’s decision on the case steered clear of the real matter at hand, which was the constitutionality of the Pledge of Allegiance (Russo & Mawdsley, 2007). Firstly, the court argued that Newdow could not file the suit as a “next friend” of his daughter, because he did not have the standing to challenge practices by the school district. This specific case saw Newdow raise an issue over another person’s rights, a practice that the court prohibits. Additionally, the motion filed by Sandra Banning introduced the matter of domestic relations into the case. The fact that the child’s mother disputed the views of Newdow created a completely new set of circumstances regarding the rights granted to Banning in accordance with her custody and the decision of the child after being caught up in a public spat (Elk Grove Unified School District. V. Newdow, n.d.). Lastly, the court stated that the school’s activities and the mother’s position did not deny Newdow the chance to impart his own religious views on his daughter. Following these arguments, the Supreme Court decided that Newdow had no right to file the claim on his daughter’s behalf and therefore reversed the ruling made by the Ninth Circuit. Interestingly, the Supreme Court failed to make any decision on the constitutionality of the Pledge of Allegiance though some experts argued that the statements made by the judges seemed to imply that the court was leaning towards the petitioner’s side (Russo and Mawdsley, 2007).
Implications of the Supreme Court Ruling
Even though the court did not base its ruling on the constitutionality of the Pledge of Allegiance the entire case had a large impact on the debate regarding the state and the church. The suit filed by Newdow sparked a nationwide debate concerning the degree to which institutions of the government are separated from religious doctrine and ideals. Different experts and public figures issued their opinions on the ruling and the case in general. Some figures criticized the Supreme Court judges for dodging the more important issue at hand, while others praised the court for upholding American values by refusing to change the pledge. The ruling made by the court also affected the country by exposing the deep religious sentiment that many Americans hold in relation to their country. Analysts argued that the case showed that Americans take deep pride in their nation, feeling that one of the reasons it is special is the fact that God chose it (Russo & Mawdsley, 2007).
The decision of the court also sparked discourse regarding religious equality in the United States. The fact that the Pledge of Allegiance contains explicit references to one faith in a multi-denominational country is bound to raise a number of questions. Richard Ellis argued that the decision was unfair for atheists because it effectively resulted in their marginalization. Ellis claimed that a reversal of circumstances would have resulted in public outrage concerning the indoctrination of schoolchildren with atheist beliefs. However, the nation’s seemingly nonchalant response to the court’s ruling suggests that the government and the Christian majority do not respect or care about the rights and opinions of atheists and other minority religions (Russo & Mawdsley, 2007).
My Opinion on the Pledge of Allegiance
The Pledge of Allegiance is primarily a sign of respect to the United States. Different parties have filed suits against the government because of the pledge and the fact that it appears to lean towards the Christian religion. However, I feel that a misunderstanding of the pledge’s true meaning has triggered this discourse. Though it contains a reference to God, dissenting parties are failing to realize that the pledge does not just allude to Christianity but to all religions in general (Hamburger, 2009). This means that the pledge does not marginalize any of the other religions in the United States. Even more important is the pledge’s key issue, which is allegiance to the United States. Different bodies within the United States use the pledge of allegiance to proclaim their loyalty to their nation. The loyalty’s religious references should not draw focus from the fact that the key issue within the statement is the connection that the person reciting it has to his nation.
The Pledge of Allegiance in Public Schools
Children in public schools should not recite the pledge of allegiance. Public schools are normally composed of students from varying backgrounds and with a wide range of interests. This means that the students may have differing beliefs regarding their country and their religion. Even though the Pledge of Allegiance does not lean towards Christianity, it still contains religious references. These allusions would conflict with the beliefs of children from Atheist or Agnostic backgrounds. Forcing the children to recite the pledge would therefore be in violation of their constitutional right to practice their religion freely. Additionally, it would amount to indoctrination, mainly because it would create a strong association between religious beliefs and nationalism. It is possible that reciting the pledge would make the children start to believe that they have to be religious so that they can be loyal to the United States.
Unified School District v Newdow was one of many suits that different parties
have filed regarding the Pledge of Allegiance. One thing that almost all of the
suits have had in common is that they have all challenged the issue of
religious references in the pledge, arguing that it is unconstitutional.
Additionally, some parties have argued that schoolchildren should not recite
the pledge in their classes because it amounts to indoctrination. The ruling by
the Supreme Court went against Newdow and failed to tackle the real issue at
hand, but it did not hold off the discourse regarding the pledge. Regardless of
this, it is that the pledge does not lean towards any particular religion.
Despite referring to God, the pledge still respects the right to worship that
all Americans enjoy. However, the pledge fails to be considerate of Americans
who choose not to worship any particular deity. Indeed, most of the suits
people have filed against the pledge have involved Atheists. In light of this
issue, the government should consider reviewing the pledge to make sure that
the wording is considerate of all possible religious positions.
Elk Grove Unified School District. V. Newdow (02-1624) 542 U.S. 1 (2004) 328 F.3d 466, reversed. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/02-1624.ZS.html
Hamburger, P. (2009). Separation of church and state. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.
Russo, C.J. & Mawdsley, R.D. (2007). Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow. In W. Jeynes & E. Martinez (Eds.), Christianity, education and modern society (pp. 93-106). Charlotte: IAP – Information Age Publishers.