ACLU Urges Supreme Court to Uphold
Ruling Removing the Phrase "Under God" From Pledge
Allegiance Recited in Public Schools
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
WASHINGTON - The American Civil Liberties Union
today urged the Supreme Court to uphold a federal
appeals court ruling that public schools are
constitutionally barred from linking patriotism and
piety by reciting the phrase "under God" as part of
the Pledge of Allegiance.
"The government should not be asking impressionable
schoolchildren to affirm their allegiance to God at
the same time that they are affirming their
allegiance to the country," said ACLU Legal Director
Steven R. Shapiro.
"Removing 'under God' from the Pledge is not
anti-religious," he added. "Just the opposite is
true. The only way the religious reference in the
Pledge can be upheld is for the Court to conclude
that the words 'under God' have no religious
meaning, which is far more insulting to people of
the ACLU noted in a friend-of-the-court brief,
Congress added the phrase "under God" at the height
of the anti-communist McCarthy Era. In signing the
bill, then-President Eisenhower said that the phrase
"under God" was added so that schoolchildren would
"daily proclaim?the dedication of our nation and our
people to the Almighty."
The case, Elk Grove Unified School District v.
Newdow, 02-1624, was originally brought by a
California man, Michael Newdow, against his
daughter's public school district, where children as
young as five are asked to recite the Pledge. Newdow
argued that the district's Pledge of Allegiance
policy directly interfered with his parental right
to influence his daughter's religious development
and, at the same time violated the Constitution's
prohibition against government entanglement with
religion. He is arguing the case today in the
While the government has insisted that the Pledge is
simply an "acknowledgment" of this country's
religious heritage, the ACLU's Supreme Court brief
cited social science research demonstrating that
many children perceive the words "under God" as a
form of prayer.
Indeed, President Bush has said much the same thing.
In a November 2002 letter to Hawaiian religious
leaders that is attached as an appendix to the ACLU
brief, President Bush wrote: "When we pledge
allegiance to One Nation under God, our citizens
participate in an important American tradition of
humbly seeking the wisdom and blessing of Divine
its 2002 ruling striking down the phrase, the Ninth
Circuit Court of Appeals found that "a profession
that we are a nation 'under God' is identical, for
Establishment Clause purposes, to a profession that
we are a nation 'under Jesus,' a nation 'under
Vishnu,' a nation 'under Zeus,' or a nation 'under
no god,' because none of these professions can be
neutral with respect to religion." The appeals court
added that the coercive effect of this policy is
"particularly pronounced in the school setting given
the age and impressionability of schoolchildren."
Justice Antonin Scalia, who had earlier criticized
the appeals court's decision in the Pledge case, has
recused himself from ruling in today's case.
Therefore, the Ninth Circuit decision will stand in
the event of a 4-4 split.
Joining the ACLU in its friend-of-the-court brief
are Americans United for Separation of Church and
State and Americans for Religious Liberty. The Court
has received almost 50 friend-of-the-court briefs in
the case, representing the broad range of opinion on
this controversial issue.
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