Court permits pledge to stay as is

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

Dr. Milton R. Liverman, Suffolk Public Schools superintendent, expressed great relief Monday following the Supreme Court decision not to strike the words &uot;one nation under God&uot; from the Pledge of Allegiance.

The superintendent also said he doesn’t understand what all the fuss was over wording that expressed a nation’s faith in God.

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&uot;This nation was founded on Christian principals and it’s ridiculous that someone would try to deny that part of our heritage,&uot; said Liverman who is also an ordained minister.

&uot;I’m just glad that finally our system stood up for itself. I couldn’t believe that the Supreme Court would cave to this but that possibility was there and I couldn’t deny it in my mind.&uot;

He also noted that not only does Suffolk Public Schools Board meeting each month begin with the Pledge of Allegiance including the words &uot;one nation under God,&uot; but that our nation’s Congress and the General Assembly also begin with the pledge.

&uot;It’s a shame that we have to take resources like the time of the Supreme Court justices and the attorneys to defend these attacks when they could be using their time for other issues,&uot; said Liverman.

&uot;They removed the 10 Commandments stone from the front of the Alabama courthouse, but when they go into the court, people have to take an oath to God to tell the truth.&uot;

The Supreme Court of the United States preserved the phrase &uot;one nation, under God,&uot; in the Pledge of Allegiance, ruling that a California atheist could not challenge the patriotic oath.

For now, with the decision coming on Flag Day, the Supreme Court has upheld the pledge in which millions of schoolchildren around the country begin the day by reciting the oath.

The court determined Monday that atheist Michael Newdow could not sue to ban the pledge from his daughter’s school and others because he does not have legal authority to speak on her behalf.

Newdow is in a lingering custody battle with the girl’s mother, and the court said he does not have sufficient custody of his child to qualify as her legal representative.

Eight justices voted to reverse a lower court ruling in Newdow’s favor.

&uot;I may be the best father in the world,&uot; Newdow said shortly after the ruling was announced. &uot;She spends 10 days a month with me. The suggestion that I don’t have sufficient custody is just incredible. This is such a blow for parental rights.&uot;

The 10-year-old’s mother, Sandra Banning, previously advised the court that she has no objection to the pledge.

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist agreed with the outcome of the case, but still said that the pledge being recited by schoolchildren does not violate the Constitution. Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Clarence Thomas agreed with him.

The ruling came on the day 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 high court’s lengthy opinion overturns a two-year-old ruling that said 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.

Newdow’s daughter, like most elementary school children, hears the Pledge of Allegiance recited daily.

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 Bush administration had asked the high court to rule against Newdow, either on the legal question of his ability to sue or on the constitutional issue.

The administration argued that the reference to God in the pledge is more about ceremony and history than about religion.

The reference is an &uot;official acknowledgment of our nation’s religious heritage,&uot; similar to the &uot;In God We Trust&uot; stamped on coins and bills, Solicitor General Theodore Olson argued to the court.

It is far-fetched to say such references pose a real danger of imposing state-sponsored religion, Olson said.

Newdow, who holds medical and legal degrees, claims to be an ordained minister. He argued his own case at the court in March, suing Congress, President Bush and others to eliminate the words &uot;under God.&uot; He asked for no damages, but said he would continue the fight because &uot;the pledge is still unconstitutional.&uot;

At a Sacramento, Calif., news conference, Elk Grove Unified School District Superintendent Dave Gordon called the pledge &uot;a unifying, patriotic exercise that reflects the historical ideals upon which this great country was founded.&uot;

He said he’d have preferred that the Supreme Court had decided the merits of the case &uot;and settled it once and for all for our nation.&uot;

Newdow had numerous backers at the high court, although they were outnumbered by legal briefs in favor of keeping the wording of the pledge as it is.

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;

However, on the other hand, 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 of Allegiance 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 into the cold war.

For more information on this and other faith related issues before the Supreme Court, go to