Home » Education Law » Supreme Court Preserves ‘God’ in Pledge

On June 14, 2004, the Supreme Court preserved the phrase “one nation, under God,” in the Pledge of Allegiance, though the Court stopped far short of ruling on the constitutionality of the phrase, refusing to address the issue of separation of church and state.

So, for the time being, millions of students can continue to utter the phrase “one nation, under God,” while reciting the Pledge of Allegience.

So, how did the Supreme Court manage to sidestep the church/state issue once again? Basically, the court said that atheist Michael Newdow 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 because he did not have sufficient custody of his daughter to be her legal representative.

So, the big news out of this case is that there is no news. The status quo remains the same, and the Court still hasn’t ruled on the issue of whether it is constitutional to allow “under God,” in the Pledge. However, the case does reverse an earlier decision by the 9th Circuit, which struck down the phrase. So, students on the West Coast can again begin reciting the Pledge in full.

The Chief Justice, William Rehnquist, did write separately to state that, had they ruled on the state/church issue, he would have ruled that the Pledge, as recited by children, would have been constitutional. Two other justices, Sandra Day O’Conner and Clarence Thomas agreed with Rehnquist. However, because only three justices made such a ruling (short of the five needed for a majority), the decision is legally meaningless. Nevertheless, it does offer a preview of how those justices would rule if the issue ultimately comes before them.


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