October 4, 2002September 6, 2002Meeting Report

September 29, 2002

Dr. Michael Newdow

The Establishment Clause

Michael NewdowThis talk, by Dr. Michael Newdow, the Sacramento physician/lawyer who challenged in court the inclusion of the words "under God" in Pledge of Allegiance, was jointly sponsored by HAGSA and the UUSS Forum.

Dr. Newdow's preliminary victory in the 9th Circuit of Court of Appeals generated national headlines and provoked a vituperative reaction from many quarters. On this occasion, Dr. Newdow was able to present his case without untoward incident to a crowd of around 165 people.

Dr. Newdow presented a history of his case. He started out in Florida in 1997 with a challenge of the words "In God We Trust" on coins and currency. That case was not successful. He later filed the "under God" case with the 10th Circuit Court while he was still residing in Florida. His former partner moved with their daughter to California. This meant that he had to re-file in the 9th Circuit if he was to have standing to sue. He pursued the case here and the rest is history.

Dr. Newdow spoke at length on the "Lemon test"1 that the courts use in church/state issues. For a law to be constitutional it must have a secular purpose, avoid the undue entanglement church and state and not have the effect of either promoting or discouraging religion. Dr. Newdow argued that the words "under God" in the Pledge fail the Lemon test. The Court agreed, but will revisit its opinion before making it final. If Dr. Newdow wins, there will undoubtedly be an appeal to the United States Supreme Court.

Dr. Newdow punctuated his talk with an entertaining change of pace. He is also a songwriter and performed "The Pledge of Allegiance Blues" and a song about Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) and his reaction to the 9th Circuit Court decision.

We had a question and answer period towards the end on the program, moderated by Rev. Doug Kraft of the UUSS. We soon had to vacate the Auditorium due to another scheduled event. However, we continued the question and answer period in the Fahs Room, where refreshments were served.

Report prepared by Wayne Luney, Recorder

1 Lemon v. Kurtzman, 1971

  1. a statute [or public policy] must have a secular legislative purpose

  2. the principal effect of the statute [or policy] must neither advance nor inhibit religion

  3. the statute [or policy] must not foster "excessive [government] entanglement with religion"

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