The Supreme Court has decided to preserve a reference to God in a patriotic oath known as the Pledge of Allegiance. For now, the Pledge of Allegiance, a patriotic oath recited by millions of school children every day, will remain intact.
The part of the pledge at issue is the phrase, "One nation, under God". Atheist Michael Newdow filed suit in federal court, arguing that his daughter should not have to utter those words because it violated the Constitution's ban on the government endorsing religion.
Lower courts sided with Mr. Newdow. But the Supreme Court rejected Mr. Newdow's challenge to the Pledge based on the fact he is engaged in a custody battle with his daughter's mother and, in the court's view, he does not have sufficient custody to speak on her behalf.
The high court effectively side-stepped the central constitutional issue in the case. But legal analyst Andrew Cohen says the ruling effectively keeps the Pledge of Allegiance as is. "This means the Pledge stands in its current form with those two words, 'under God', in it, and that the lower court ruling that had said otherwise is overruled," he explained. "So, it is clearly a victory even on the technicality for the government and for those who argued that the Pledge did not violate the principle of the separation of church and state."
Religious groups welcomed the high court decision. A conservative legal group, the American Center for Law and Justice, said the court had removed what it called a dark cloud over the Pledge that gives students the right to acknowledge that freedoms come from God, not the government.
Atheist groups and other organizations committed to keeping government separate from religion were disheartened by the ruling. Barry Lynn is president of a group called Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. "Well, I am very disappointed that the Supreme Court ducked a vital constitutional issue and allowed religious minorities and non-believers in this country to still feel like second class citizens when they pledge allegiance to their country," he said.
Michael Newdow, the man who filed the suit and argued his case before the Supreme Court, vowed to continue his battle, adding that he believes the Pledge is still unconstitutional.