Elk Grove Unified School District Vs Newdow Supreme Court Case Analysis

I Pledge Allegiance to the Flag

The Supreme Court case Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow mainly concerns the daughter of Michael Newdow who attended a public school in the Elk Grove Unified School District in California. It was the policy of the Elk Grove Unified School District that teachers and elementary school children should begin every school day by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance that contains the words “under God.” The words “under God” were added to the Pledge of Allegiance by a 1954 Congressional Act (Chan, 2005). Michael Newdow sued the Elk Grove Unified School District for making his daughter recite – or even listen to the words “under God”- claiming that including these words on the Pledge violates the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution’s First Amendment. The two primary legal issues litigated in the case were the Establishment Clause and Standing, both prudential standing and Article III standing. After passing through several courts, the Supreme Court of the United States dismissed Newdow’s case stating that the case faled to reach the merits of the constitutional challenge because Newdow lacked a prudential standing (Chan, 2005).

Before the Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow case could reach the Supreme Court, it had passed through the District Court and the Appellate Court. Newdow’s claims were first heard by the United States Magistrate Judge Peter Nowinski. The Magistrate Court Judge together with the United States District Court Judge dismissed Newdow’s claims stating that they did not violate the Establishment Clause (Prouser, 2005). The United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the case in favor of Newdow. According to the Court of Appeals, Newdow had a standing to challenge a practice that interferes with his right to guide his daughter’s religious education. In addition, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the 1954 Congressional Act violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment by including the words “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance (Prouser, 2005).

From the Appellate Court, Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow case moved to the United States Supreme Court. Following the Court of Appeals’ ruling, Sandra Banning, the child’s mother filed a new case to dismiss the court ruling, claiming that she was legally in the child’s custody as stated under a state-court order. Therefore, as a legal custodian, Banning felt that he child was not supposed to be a party to Newdow’s suit. The Supreme Court wanted to determine whether Newdow had any standing to challenge the Elk Grove Unified School District’s policy, and whether inclusion of the words “under God” violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. At the Supreme Court of the United States, Newdow’s case was dismissed by a five-justice majority for lack of prudential standing (Prouser, 2005).

When making its final ruling, the United States Supreme Court focused on the interests of Newdow as well as those of his daughter. According to Banning, her daughter is a Christian and has no problem reciting the Pledge of Allegiance including the words “under God.” From Banning’s statements, the Court found out that Newdow and Banning were likely to be in a conflict concerning how to direct their daughter’s religious education. The Supreme Court of the United States therefore concluded that it was not right for the federal courts to rule the case in favor of Newdow because his complaint concerned a third person who was not before the court (Lithwick, 2009).

The decision made by the United States Supreme Court has had a fundamental impact on American Society in general and on ethics in American society in particular. Since the Supreme Court made a decision, all children in public school are compelled to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, or rather listen to it irrespective of their religious backgrounds. The entire American society has to accept the Pledge of Alliance the way it is and even allow their children to either recite it or listen to it while they are at school. Some Americans feel that including the words “under God” in the Pledge is complete violation of their religious beliefs of these children because this is a total violation of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution (Prouser, 2005).

According to some Americans, the words “under God” included in the Pledge of Allegiance is a promotion of a religious belief specifically associated with Christians. Some American citizens claim that they have the right to pledge alliance to their country, but that does not mean that they have to make statements that are against their religious beliefs. Another ethical issue that has been raised following the Supreme Court’s decision is whether it is ethical to ask other Americans to keep quite when their fellow children are promoting their beliefs with governmental authority (Lithwick, 2009). Basically, some Americans view the Pledge of Allegiance as unethical because it divides Americans on religious lines. Those who are against the Pledge claim that they all recognize that the strength of America is based on the plurality of its cultures and beliefs, and that Americans can show their patriotism by respecting the Constitution but not by reciting the Pledge, especially for the school children (Prouser, 2005).

The decision of the Supreme Court in Newdow’s case also has some implications on the legal rights of non-custodial parents in the United States federal courts. In addition, based on the Supreme Court’s decision, one might question the interplay between the federal jurisdiction and state court family laws. Since the Court felt that Newdow had a Article III standing, then any parent with authoritative power to make decisions on the best interests of his or her child will be able to challenge the constitutionality of the Pledge of Allegiance sometimes in future. This can only happen if Americans continue to view recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance as a religious issue.

Personally, I believe that the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance is a sign of respect fit the United State but not a religious issue. According to Prouser (2005), the Pledge of Allegiance is a United States symbol, and for this reason, all Americans are expected to participate freely in reciting it, particularly children in public schools. Students in public schools are required to recite the Pledge Allegiance as a way of honor to the country and its soldiers, and it is not meant to infringe on the religious beliefs of children. In its original form before inclusion of the words “under God,” the Pledge of Allegiance did not contain any element that could associate it with any religion. Even after inclusion of the two words by the 1994 Congressional Act, the Pledge causes no harm to the religious beliefs of children in public schools (Lithwick, 2009).

I feel that suppose any parent has a problem with the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools, he has the freedom of removing his child from that school and transfer him or her to a private school. According to my opinion, the Pledge of Allegiance is simply a poem that the United States uses to show its pride as a nation considering the far it has come as a country. The authors did not intend to harm citizens of any religion but wanted the Pledge to be used a celebration of America.

I think public schools should be allowed to recite the Pledge of Allegiance because it gives students the pride and joy of being in a free country. As students put their hands over their hearts reciting the Pledge of Allegiance as they look at the United States Flag, they feel honored to be in a free nation and to be part of America as a nation. One thing that students in the United States public schools must understand is the fact that the Pledge of Allegiance is not against any religion, and neither does it fail to recognize other religions in the country. By reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, students in public schools get a better appreciation of their free country, the freedom that they fight for and live in (Lithwick, 2009).

 


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