Court ruling pleases locals

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 16, 2004

For now, the Pledge of Allegiance remains safe with the phrase, &uot;one nation, under God,&uot; thanks to a ruling Monday by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The decision leaves untouched the practice in which millions of schoolchildren around the country begin the day by reciting the pledge.

The court said the atheist could not sue to ban the pledge from his daughter’s school and others because he did not have legal authority to speak for her.

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Michael Newdow, a self-proclaimed atheist, who is in a custody dispute with his daughter’s mother, sued to ban the pledge from his daughter’s school. The high court said he could not sue to ban the pledge because he does not have the legal authority to speak for her.

Locally, Dr. Mike Reed, superintendent of the Butler County School system expressed his joy over the ruling.

&uot;Thank God!&uot; he said Monday morning. &uot;I’m glad that the Supreme Court ruled as they did and that they acted as quickly as they did.&uot;

Reed said he fully supports the Pledge of Allegiance remaining unchanged to include the words &uot;under God.&uot;

&uot;I am in support of their decision 100 percent,&uot; he said. ”Under God’ should definitely be in our Pledge of Allegiance.&uot;

He said students in the Butler County School System have the option of not saying the pledge each morning if they choose not to or if their parents say they can’t.

&uot;They’ll stand with their class but they don’t verbalize,&uot; he said.

Reed pointed out that the board begins each meeting with the Pledge.

Joseph West, principal of Greenville Elementary School, said his students recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

&uot;We recite the Pledge each morning after we do morning announcements,&uot; he said. &uot;We have a different student to lead it each morning and the students recite it at one time.&uot;

West said it is not a forced issued, but if there are objections he needs to know about it.

&uot;If students have a religious objection to saying the Pledge, we would like to know it from the parents,&uot; he said. &uot;If they do have an objection, we will respect the parents’ wishes.&uot;

West said there have been no objections during his tenure at the school.

&uot;I’ve been here for four years and we have never had a student object to the saying the pledge,&uot; he said. &uot;I believe as they get older and learn more about the Constitution, then you have more instances of people refusing to the say the pledge. Here, we’ve had no problem getting children to stand and recite the Pledge.&uot;

Alabama Attorney General Troy King also applauded the ruling.

&uot;No matter how frivolous or ridiculous a constitutional challenge may appear, it always has the potential to destroy another important American tradition, further weakening the moral foundation upon which our system of government was founded,&uot; King said. &uot;The outcome of the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court is a right one. While their ruling was based on a technicality, all of us who value our constitution and its protections should be relieved that the Supreme Court did not agree with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and order the words &uot;under God&uot; stricken from the Pledge of Allegiance. We are disappointed, however, that they failed to take the additional step and unequivocally rule the constitution does not preclude &uot;under God&uot; from being in the pledge.&uot;

While the high court ruled against the father, it did so based on a technicality, and some of the justices felt shaky on that.

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist agreed with the outcome of the case, but still wrote separately to say that the Pledge as recited by schoolchildren does not violate the Constitution. Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Clarence Thomas agreed with him.

The high court’s lengthy opinion overturns a ruling two years ago that the teacher-led pledge was unconstitutional in public schools. That appeals court decision set off a national uproar and would have stripped the reference to God from the version of the pledge said by about 9.6 million schoolchildren in California and other western states.

The ruling came on the day that Congress set aside to honor the national flag. The ruling also came exactly 50 years after Congress added the disputed words &uot;under God&uot; to what had been a secular patriotic oath.

The First Amendment guarantees that government will not &uot;establish&uot; religion, wording that has come to mean a general ban on overt government sponsorship of religion in public schools and elsewhere.

The Supreme Court has already said that schoolchildren cannot be required to recite the oath that begins, &uot;I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America.&uot;

The court has also repeatedly barred school-sponsored prayer from classrooms, playing fields and school ceremonies.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the language of the First Amendment and the Supreme Court’s precedents make clear that tax-supported schools cannot lend their imprimatur to a declaration of fealty to &uot;one nation under God.&uot;

The case began when Newdow sued Congress, President Bush and others to eliminate the words &uot;under God.&uot; He asked for no damages. He said he would continue the fight because &uot;the pledge is still unconstitutional.&uot;

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said the court &uot;ducked this constitutional issue today,&uot; and that students &uot;should not feel compelled by school officials to subscribe to a particular religious belief in order to show love of country.&uot;

On the other side, the American Center for Law and Justice said the ruling removes a cloud from the pledge.

&uot;While the court did not address the merits of the case, it is clear that the Pledge of Allegiance and the words ‘under God’ can continue to be recited by students across America,&uot; said Jay Sekulow, the group’s chief counsel.

Congress adopted the pledge as a national patriotic tribute in 1942, at the height of World War II. Congress added the phrase &uot;under God&uot; more than a decade later, in 1954, when the world had moved from hot war to cold.

Supporters of the new wording said it would set the United States apart from godless communism.