Case Study 2: I Pledge Allegiance to the Flag
Michael Newdow’s daughter went to the Elk Grove Unified School District in California. Elk Grove teachers start school days with reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, including the words “under God” added by a 1954 Congressional act. Newdow sued in federal district court in California, arguing that making students listen, even if they choose not to participate to the words “under God” violates the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.
- Summarize the salient points of the Supreme Court case Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow.
- Discuss the levels of the court through which the case evolved before it reached the Supreme Court.
- Explain the decision of the Supreme Court in this case in brief.
- Explain the fundamental impact that the court decision in question has had on American society in general and on ethics in American society in particular. Provide a rationale for the response.
- Discuss whether you believe that the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance is a religious issue or a sign of respect for the United States.
- Discuss whether or not you think public schools should be allowed to recite the pledge
The district court dismissed Newdow’s complaint about lack of standing because Michael and the mother of his daughter are divorced, and he does not have custody. The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, holding that Newdow did have standing “to challenge a practice that interferes with his right to direct the religious education of his daughter.” The Ninth Circuit ruled that Congress’s 1954 act adding the words “under God” to the Pledge and the school district policy requiring it be recited both violated the First Amendment’s establishment clause.
Newdow’s suit took place in the district court. Litigants who are not satisfied with the lower court decision can appeal the case to the court of appeals of the circuit in which the federal district court is located District Courts handles disagreements by examining the facts of the case and exercising legal principles to decide what’s right. “The district court dismissed Newdow’s complaint for lack of standing because he and the mother of his daughter are divorced, and he does not have custody.
Newdow’s case was pending a rehearing, so the mother of Newdow’s child informed the court that Newdow did not have legal custody of the child and legal control over the child’s educational and religious upbringing. She also requested that, as the parent with legal custody and control of the daughter, she “wishes for her to be able to recite the Pledge at school exactly as it stands.
The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, holding that Newdow did have standing “to challenge a practice that interferes with his right to direct the religious education of his daughter.” The Ninth Circuit ruled that Congress’s 1954 act adding the words “under God” to the Pledge and the school district policy requiring it be recited both violated the First Amendment’s establishment clause”(Oyez, 2019).
“The Supreme Court found that Newdow did not have standing to bring suit because he did not have sufficient custody over his daughter. “When hard questions of domestic relations are sure to affect the outcome, the prudent course is for the federal court to stay its hand rather than reach out to resolve a weighty question of federal constitutional law,” Justice Stevens wrote. Because it found that Newdow did not have standing, the Court failed to reach the constitutional question. Chief Justice Renquist and Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Clarence Thomas all wrote separate concurrences, saying that requiring teachers to lead the Pledge is constitutional” (Oyez, 2019).
The Supreme Court’s decision has had a significant impact on American society and its ethics. The Pledge of Allegiance to many Americans increased their belief in this country and gave a sense of dedication as well. This ruling increased that momentum for those who felt strongly about reciting the pledge. Those individuals like Michael Newdow feel as though their freedom of how and when to practice religion is nonexistent. This case is not about freedom of religion. It’s about if Newdow had the legal standing for his petition, and he did not. Ethically, this ruling is the correct legal decision. Newdow’s ex-wife had primary legal custody, which is how she makes decisions on behalf of her daughter.
Reciting the Pledge of Allegiance is a sign of respect. Any country you go to, if you attend a game, ceremony, etc., you must be respectful and stand for their pledge of allegiance. In America ours is “I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Those who do not have religious beliefs may take issue with the part that says one nation under God, as Newdow did.
This country was founded on spiritual values, so it does make sense for the Pledge of Allegiance to say, “one nation under God.” I believe standing for the Pledge of Allegiance is showing respect for the United States but is a religious concern. Historical context is very important to make this point. The phrase ‘under God’ was not part of the original pledge made by Francis Bellamy (1892). It was added decades later on June 14, 1954, during the cold war, by religious leaders of the country (especially at the urging of then President Dwight D. Eisenhower) (Priya Johnson, 2018). Most Americans during that time were of the Christian faith and adding under God pays tribute to that. This is why the Pledge can be a religious problem.
Public schools should be allowed to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Saying the Pledge of Allegiance in schools should be optional. The First Amendment states we have freedom of religion, so reciting the pledge should be voluntary. If a school decides to recite the pledge, those who want to participate can, those who do should not be forced to. It would be infringing on their first amendment right.
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