Originally created 06/16/04

Wimping out



You can say this about the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling Monday on the Pledge of Allegiance: It got atheists and Christians to agree on something - namely, that the high court ducked the issues being raised in the California lawsuit, Elk Grove Unified School District vs. Newdow.

The challenge waged by atheist dad Michael Newdow was that the words "under God" in the Pledge, recited in his daughter's public school and many others across the country, was unconstitutional on grounds it violated the doctrine of "separation of church and state."

After inviting Newdow to make his argument before them, the justices were expected to make a landmark First Amendment ruling. That amendment guarantees the government will not "establish" a religion, the wording of which, Newdow ludicrously contended, should include a ban on teacher-led recitations that acknowledges a belief in God.

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the most liberal appeals court in the nation, shocked the country when it held that Newdow was right - that Supreme Court precedents barring school-sponsored prayers from classrooms carried over to include a ban on the Pledge of Allegiance phrase "one nation under God."

Instead of coming to grips with this sensitive issue, the Supreme Court wimped out, making a technical instead of a substantive ruling. The eight justices who participated in the case decided that the father, who's in a protracted custody battle with the girl's mother, did not have standing to legally represent his daughter in the case.

If Newdow didn't have legal standing, shouldn't that have been resolved long before it got to the nation's highest court? It would have saved Americans the trauma of the Ninth Circuit's controversial and intemperate ruling. It would also have saved taxpayers a bundle of money.

Now, the trauma will almost certainly be revisited - and prolonged - as atheist groups already have indicated they will file another lawsuit on the basis of the same constitutional issues Newdow raised in his suit.

At least, in the meantime, government schools will not have to take the words "under God" out of the famed patriotic oath. That's not the kind of victory Pledge defenders wanted, but it's still a lot better than if they had lost the case.