Pledge ruling correct, but brings no resolve

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 17, 2004

Tribune editorial staff

We are pleased the U.S. Supreme Court decided Monday that the words "under God" can remain in the Pledge of Allegiance, but some people are disappointed at the technicality on which they ruled.

Three justices said that they see no violation of the Constitution in the pledge's language. We agree. The First Amendment aims to keep Congress from establishing a state religion, which would take a lot more than inserting the words "under God" in the pledge. Besides, that happened 50 years ago, so why is it such a big issue now?

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But Monday's ruling by the Supreme Court wasn't based on separation of church and state. In fact, the nation's highest court seemed to sidestep the real question: Do the words "under God" constitute a religious oath or an establishment of religion?

Instead, it threw out the case on technical grounds. Michael Newdow, a California atheist, filed the lawsuit because he said his daughter should not have to recite a pledge that includes a religious element. The court ruled Newdow lacked standing to file a lawsuit because he was not his daughter's custodial parent and cannot file lawsuits on his daughter's behalf.

Ironically, Newdow's ex-wife is a born-again Christian who fully supports including the phrase "under God" in the pledge.

On the surface, it appears the court looked for a technicality that would allow it to wash its hands of the case rather than taking on a difficult and emotional issue, but in reality it had no choice. Newdow's lack of standing was a fatal flaw that should have been spotted in the lower courts.

The Supreme Court could not - and should not - decide the merits of any defected case. Deciding such a case would set a bad precedent. Unfortunately, the case does little to decide the merits of whether or not "under God" should remain in the pledge

This issue is far from over, though. A small minority of people will want

to continue to debate it in courts and the matter will eventually go to the Supreme Court again.

Perhaps this time the court will have the guts - and the legal grounds - to stand up and be heard on the issue.