Newdow v. Rio Linda Union School District
In 2005, atheist activist Dr. Michael Newdow made another attempt to scrub the words “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance. Becket defended California public school parents and their children who wanted to continue voluntarily reciting the Pledge in school. In argument before the Ninth Circuit—which previously ruled that the words “under God” in the Pledge were unconstitutional—Becket founder Seamus Hasson argued that in our nation’s history, appeals to “God” in the Declaration of Independence and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address represent the philosophical idea that human rights come from an authority higher than the state. In 2010, the Ninth Circuit reversed itself and agreed with Becket that the Pledge is a statement of political philosophy and is constitutional.
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“This is about a lot more than just how school kids start their day. It’s about where the next generation thinks its rights come from – the Creator or the State.”
—Seamus Hasson, Becket’s Founder
Atheist activist continues attack on “under God” in Pledge of Allegiance
Just a year after his procedural defeat at the U.S. Supreme Court, atheist activist Dr. Michael Newdow made another attempt to remove the words “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance—this time in California. In May 2005, Becket intervened on behalf of public school parents whose children sought to continue voluntarily reciting the Pledge in school.
After the federal district court sided with Dr. Newdow, Becket appealed the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which previously issued what the L.A. Times called one of its “most controversial opinions,” that the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance were unconstitutional. In December 2007, the Ninth Circuit heard a lively argument in a packed courtroom that included several of Dr. Newdow’s boisterous supporters.
In the hearing, Becket founder Seamus Hasson argued that the phrase “under God” in American history protects rights, not violates them. Mr. Hasson demonstrated that historic appeals to “Nature’s God” in the Declaration of Independence, Washington’s Farewell Address, and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address are not primarily religious but instead embody our Founding Fathers’ political philosophy. By adding “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954, Congress not only contrasted mutually exclusive conceptions of human rights envisioned by the United States and the Soviet Union, but affirmed that our rights come from an authority higher than the state.
Ninth Circuit changes its mind—thanks to Becket
After considering the case for almost two and a half years, in March 2010, the Ninth Circuit reversed itself, affirming the constitutionality of the words “under God.” Remarkably, the same court that in 2002 ruled that saying “under God” was like saying a prayer, adopted Becket’s position that the Pledge is a statement of political philosophy.
Dr. Newdow has since made similar attempts in other states to alter the Pledge of Allegiance as well as to scrub the national motto “In God we trust” from U.S. currency. Becket continues to defend religion in the public square, arguing that “God” is not a dirty word that needs to be scrubbed from society.
To learn more about the case, listen to Becket’s Stream of Conscience podcast episode, Rights and Recitations.
Importance to religious liberty:
- Public Square: Because religious exercise is natural to human beings, it is natural to human culture. It can, and should, have a place in the public square. Becket fights to assure free religious expression in public schools, including the right of students to voluntarily say the Pledge of Allegiance.