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Elk Grove Unified Sch. Dist. v. Newdow

Supreme Court of the United States

March 24, 2004, Argued ; June 14, 2004, Decided

No. 02-1624

Opinion

 [*4]  [**2305]   Justice Stevens delivered the opinion of the Court.

Each day elementary school teachers in the Elk Grove Unified School District (School District) lead their classes in  [*5]  a group recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. Respondent, Michael A. Newdow, is an atheist whose daughter participates in that daily exercise. Because the Pledge contains the words "under God," he views the School District's policy as a religious indoctrination of his child that violates the First Amendment. A divided panel of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit agreed with Newdow. In light of the obvious importance of that decision, we [****6]  granted certiorari to review the First Amendment issue and, preliminarily, the question whether Newdow has standing to invoke the jurisdiction of the federal courts. We conclude that Newdow lacks standing and therefore reverse the Court of Appeals' decision.

 [*6]  I

"The very purpose of a national flag is to serve as a symbol of our country," Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397, 405, 105 L. Ed. 2d 342, 109 S. Ct. 2533 (1989), and of its proud traditions "of freedom, of equal opportunity, of religious tolerance, and of good will for other peoples who share our aspirations," id., at 437, 105 L. Ed. 2d 342, 109 S. Ct. 2533 (Stevens, J., dissenting). As its history illustrates, the Pledge of Allegiance evolved as a common public acknowledgment of the ideals that our flag symbolizes. Its recitation is a patriotic exercise designed to foster national  [***106]  unity and pride in those principles.

The Pledge of Allegiance was initially conceived more than a century ago. As part of the nationwide interest in commemorating the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' discovery of America, a widely circulated national magazine for youth proposed in 1892 that pupils recite the following affirmation: "I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the [****7]  Republic for which it stands: one Nation indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all." 1 In the 1920's, the National Flag Conferences replaced the phrase "my Flag" with "the flag of the United States of America."

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542 U.S. 1 *; 124 S. Ct. 2301 **; 159 L. Ed. 2d 98 ***; 2004 U.S. LEXIS 4178 ****; 72 U.S.L.W. 4457; 17 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 359

ELK GROVE UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT and DAVID W. GORDON, SUPERINTENDENT, Petitioners v. MICHAEL A. NEWDOW et al.

Subsequent History: US Supreme Court rehearing denied by Elk Grove Unified Sch. Dist. v. Newdow, 542 U.S. 961, 125 S. Ct. 21, 159 L. Ed. 2d 851, 2004 U.S. LEXIS 4886 (U.S., Aug. 23, 2004)

Prior History: ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT.

Newdow v. U.S. Cong., 328 F.3d 466, 2002 U.S. App. LEXIS 28040 (9th Cir. Cal., 2002)

Disposition: Reversed.

CORE TERMS

Pledge, religious, religion, daughter, recite, ceremony, flag, prayer, rights, coercion, pledge of allegiance, school district, endorsement, words, domestic relations, court of appeals, federal court, patriotic, observer, custody, establishments, references, state law, allegiance, cases, prudential standing, incorporation, attend, graduation, church

Education Law, Curriculum, Concrete Cases, Patriotic Ceremonies, Constitutional Law, Fundamental Freedoms, Freedom of Religion, Establishment of Religion, General Overview, Free Exercise of Religion, Bill of Rights, State Application, Civil Procedure, Justiciability, Standing, Case or Controversy, Preliminary Considerations, Federal & State Interrelationships, Abstention, The Judiciary, Jurisdiction, Jurisdictional Sources, Appeals, Appellate Jurisdiction, State Court Review, Case & Controversy Requirements, Elements, Advisory Opinions, Family Law, Child Custody, Family Law & Probate Exceptions, Marital Termination & Spousal Support, Spousal Support, Erie Doctrine, Parental Duties & Rights, Duties, Care & Control of Children