Decision would affect 9 states, 9.6 million kids

Thursday, November 6, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 12:48 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

The words “under God” pack a punch when it comes to the Pledge of Allegiance.

The latest round of controversy arose in June 2002 when the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 in a California case that the words “under God” violated the First Amendment because they constituted government endorsement of religion.

Elk Grove United School District v. Newdow — now bound for the U.S. Supreme Court — involves atheist Michael Newdow, who objected to his 9-year-old daughter reciting and listening to the Pledge of Allegiance in school.

Newdow, his daughter’s school district and the Bush administration each asked the Supreme Court to get involved. The court said it would hear only the school’s appeal but invited the White House to give its side separately.

Justice Antonin Scalia said he will not take part in the case but did not explain why. His absence raises the possibility of a 4-4 ruling, which would mean, in essence, that the court reached no opinion and the ruling of the 9th Circuit Court would stand in the nine states it oversees as well as Guam. The circuit comprises California, Oregon, Nevada, Montana, Washington, Idaho, Arizona, Hawaii and Alaska — 9.6 million schoolchildren in all.

First, the court must decide whether Newdow has the right to bring the case to court because he does not have physical custody of his daughter. If the justices decide he has no standing to bring the case, they will most likely dismiss it, without considering the First Amendment question.

A ruling is expected by June.

Associated Press and Missourian staff writers Erin Patterson and Brooke Pearl.

In your own words

The case has again raised awareness of the pledge. Columbians feel passionately about the words “under God” and the controversy as a whole. When asked, “What does the phrase ‘one nation under God’ mean to you?” many people did not hesitate to voice their opinions:

“The words ‘under God’ in the phrase indicates that the person who included the phrase believes that God exists. In addition to God’s existence, the person who included the phrase believes that God has given approval for our nation to exist. … I was a little girl when the words were added, and I remember the reactions from the adults around me. That being said, I’m much happier with the pledge without that phrase. If people don’t believe in a supreme being, why should they pledge to that being?”

— Kerry Hollander, director of the MU Hillel Foundation

“I think that it’s just a reflection of our Judeo-Christian heritage.”

— Fourth Ward Councilman Jim Loveless

“I strongly oppose ‘under God’ being taken out of the Pledge of Allegiance. We have too little God in our society as it is, and it would be a bad idea to remove it from the Pledge of Allegiance. … I think it’s a shame there aren’t more people to stand up for what they believe in. I challenge people to put their money where their mouth is and get up and get busy and help fix the problems in our society.”

— Mari Lou Horn, former teacher, artist and political activist

“To me, ‘under God’ means that God is watching over and protecting everyone regardless if they believe in him or not. But I think it is important to remember that American citizens are not the only ones God cares about and that really the whole world is ‘under God.’”

— MU sophomore Ben Renkoski

“A group of people bonded together by common beliefs in freedom, which allow for their own personal persuasion.”

— Elaine Hassemer, principal at Paxton Keeley Elementary School

“It probably means different things to different people, but I think it points to our heritage as a nation. It was founded by people that did believe in God and thought it was important to include that in our foundation. … In order to remember our heritage, it is important to retain that phrase.”

— The Rev. Dave Benson, Campus Lutheran Church

“What is wrong with ‘one nation under God’? The Man is there somewhere, and he’s looking out for all of us. It doesn’t bother me at all to say that. Maybe it gives a little extra meaning because we’re human people. It’s the decent thing to do. I hope God’s looking down on us, because we need all the help we can get.”

— Tom Hovey, veteran of Korean and Vietnam wars

“It is outdated, and I don’t think it serves much of a purpose. But it can be interpreted to incorporate just about any religion because it is so general, so it’s not really offensive. It doesn’t seem to be helping anyone, but it doesn’t seem to be hurting anyone, either. I think it would cause an unnecessary uproar if we removed it.”

— Debra Phelps, MU sophomore and community leader in Gillett Hall

“If I remember my history correctly, this nation

. . . was founded on religious freedom. In other words, people came from other countries to escape religious persecution. I read somewhere that the words ‘under God’ were not added until sometime in the ’50s. The original pledge didn’t have it in there, so it would probably be OK to remove it. But then, by the same token, if they remove the words ‘under God’ from the pledge (because some religious groups are ‘offended’ by it), when are they going to take the phrases pertaining to God from the coins and bills?”

— Kathy Andresen, administrative assistant at MU’s philosophy department

Compiled by Erin Patterson and Brooke Pearl

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