The U.S. Supreme Court should refuse to hear an appeal of a lower court decision barring government-sponsored recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
In a friend-of-the-court brief filed June 26, Americans United asserts that the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals faithfully applied Supreme Court precedent when it held that teacher-led recitation of the Pledge in public schools violates the constitutional separation of church and state.
The Supreme Court has held repeatedly that impressionable children may not be subjected to direct or indirect religious pressures by public school authorities or other government officials, says AU. After the phrase "under God" was added to the Pledge by law in 1954, the civil liberties group asserts, a patriotic ritual was transformed into a religious ceremony.
"Children are bound to perceive the phrase as affirming a belief in the existence of God and national subordination to God, and as expressing commitment to a nation defined by religious devotion," argues AU's brief. "To this extent, teacher-led classroom recitation of the Pledge is a religious exercise an exercise in religious affirmation and hence forbidden, even if student participation is not formally required, because of the special risk of indirect coercion."
The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, said the government has no business pressuring children to affirm religious beliefs.
"In America, we don't let the government meddle in our religious lives," said Lynn. "The Constitution strictly forbids politicians and school authorities to intrude into matters of faith. Parents, not government officials, should make the decisions about the religious upbringing of children."
Americans United Legal Director Ayesha Khan agreed.
"The Supreme Court has consistently held that the government may not coerce children to participate in religious exercises of any kind," Khan said. "When Congress added 'under God' to the Pledge, it turned a patriotic ritual into a religious testimonial, and that's not acceptable in our public schools."
In its brief in U.S. v. Newdow, Americans United notes that school children will find it hard to decline to participate in classroom recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance because they won't want to appear unpatriotic.
"The pressure on a child to affirm religious belief by reciting the Pledge," observes the brief, "is magnified by the fact that refraining from reciting the Pledge may be construed as lack of patriotism."
The Americans United brief also challenges the right of the Bush administration to ask the Supreme Court to intervene in the case. The United States government, the brief asserts, was not a losing party in the case in the lower court and thus has no right to intervene at this stage.
Americans United also says that there are questions about standing in the Newdow case that should be resolved before the Supreme Court considers the issue.
The amicus brief was submitted to the court by AU Legal Director Khan and counsel of record David H. Remes, an attorney with the Washington, D.C., firm of Covington & Burling. Covington & Burling served as a cooperating attorney for AU in the Pledge case.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.