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An Overview Of Newdow V. U.S. Congress

9 Pages 2221 Words

An Overview of Newdow
U.S. Congress

By: Florie Mendiola

Background Information:
Michael Newdow, an atheist, has a daughter who attends public ele-mentary school in the Elk Grove Unified School District in California. Each day, following state law, the teachers lead students in a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. The specific law states that public schools begin each school day with "appropriate patriotic exercises" and that the Pledge would be sufficient to comply. The specific school policy states that "Each elementary school class [shall] recite the pledge of allegiance to the flag once each day."
At no point was any student, including Newdow's daughter, forced to recite the Pledge. That has already been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (although it should be noted that Barnette was decided in 1943 and the words "under God" were not added until 1954). Instead, Newdow argued that his daughter suffered harm because she would:
watch and listen as her state-employed teacher in her state-run school leads her classmates in a ritual proclaiming that there is a God, and that our's [sic] is 'one nation under God.'
In other words, Newdow's position was that it is unconstitutional for a state employee to lead students in an exercise, which is fundamentally religious in nature because that represents the state endorsing some particular view. The fact that his daughter was not required to participate in this exercise was not sufficient to make it constitutional - the mere fact that she was a recipient of the message that certain religious beliefs are endorsed by the government was sufficient to entail harm.
The school district sought to have the case dismissed. The United States Congress and the President of the United States joined in this motion, which was approved by a District Court judge. Newdow appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.


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