Posted Sept. 15, 2005-- An atheist seeking to strike the words "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools has won a major battle in his quest to force the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the issue again.
U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton sided with atheist Michael Newdow in ruling Wednesday that the pledge's reference to God violates the rights of children in three school districts to be "free from a coercive requirement to affirm God."
The Supreme Court dismissed the case last year, saying Newdow lacked standing because he did not have custody of his elementary school daughter on whose behalf he sued.
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Newdow, an attorney, immediately filed a new federal case in which he offered to represent two families against the Elk Grove Unified School District, the same Sacramento-area district he had previously sued.
In the Wednesday decision, Judge Lawrence Karlton said: "The court concludes that it is bound by the Ninth Circuit's previous determination that the school district's policy with regard to the pledge is an unconstitutional violation of the children's right to be free from a coercive requirement to affirm God."
"Imagine every morning if the teachers had the children stand up, place their hands over their hearts, and say, 'We are one nation that denies God exists,'" Newdow told The Associated Press.
"I think that everybody would not be sitting here saying, 'Oh, what harm is that.' They'd be furious. And that's exactly what goes on against atheists. And it shouldn't."
In effect, the decision reopens the way for Newdow and others to argue the merits of the case before higher courts. The Supreme Court did not decide on that when it ruled Newdow did not have standing to bring the case.