News Articles

Mother seeks to protect 8-year-old from scorn in ruling against pledge

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–The mother of an 8-year-old whose father thrust her into battle against the Pledge of Allegiance has asked that the girl be removed from the case.

“I do not wish for my daughter, for the rest of her life, to be known as ‘the atheist child who hated the Pledge.'”
Sandra Banning
“I do not wish for my daughter, for the rest of her life, to be known as ‘the atheist child who hated the Pledge,'” Sandra Banning said in a declaration accompanying a motion filed Aug. 5 with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco.

“It is therefore imperative that the court allow the [case] to go forward, if at all, without my daughter as a party,” Banning said.

Soon after a stunning 2-1 decision by a panel within the federal court June 26 against the Pledge of Allegiance, Banning acknowledged that she and her daughter, who has remained unnamed, are members of an evangelical church in California, Calvary Chapel of Laguna Creek in Elk Grove, Calif. — and they have no objection to the Pledge of Allegiance.

Banning has never been married to the plaintiff in the case, Michael Newdow, a self-proclaimed atheist and Sacramento physician-lawyer who has represented himself in court proceedings. Banning noted in her motion that she has had legal custody of their daughter since February, with “the sole right to represent [her daughter’s] legal interests and make all decisions about her education.” Newdow has visitation rights with his daughter every other weekend.

Newdow responded to the mother’s motion by saying, “I’m still a parent and still have a right to keep the government from indoctrinating my child,” according to a report in the San Francisco Chronicle.

The Associated Press reported Newdow as saying, “It’s my lawsuit, not hers. The main thrust of this has always been my right to send my child to school and not have her indoctrinated with religious beliefs.”

Banning, in her Aug. 5 filing, asked the court “to acknowledge the child has not been harmed” by the Pledge of Allegiance. She voiced concern that her daughter, a third-grader, would be harmed by a “lifetime of public scorn” if she is incorrectly perceived as the “little atheist girl that attacked the pledge.”

In a Fox News interview in July, Banning said her daughter told her, “I’m still going to say ‘one nation under God.’ I’ll say it quietly so no one will know I’m breaking the law.”

Banning, who operates a home-based business for clerical and computer support, said in a news conference at the federal court that she had known of Newdow’s suit but did not know of his claim that their daughter was being harmed by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance’s reference to the United States as being “under God.”

Newdow responded, “We discussed it a million times,” the Chronicle reported. Newdow also speculated that Banning is “being used” by “some religious group,” according to the Chronicle.

The three-judge panel, after just a day of a national firestorm, blocked its ruling to allow the full court’s 28 judges to weigh in on the matter.

The lone dissenter in the federal panel’s 2-1 decision against the pledge, Judge Ferdinand Fernandez, argued that “such phrases as ‘in God we trust’ or ‘under God’ have no tendency to establish a religion in this country or to suppress anyone’s exercise, or nonexercise, of religion, except in the fevered eye of persons who most fervently would like to drive all tincture of religion out of the public life.”

In other developments in the case:

— the state of California filed a motion July 25 asking the federal appeals court to reverse the three-judge panel’s ruling. California Attorney General Bill Lockyer stated in the appeal, “The depth and breadth of the public outcry at the panel’s decision should leave little doubt that the pledge, as it is recited today, serves the secular purpose of fostering patriotism and a sense of unity among Americans.”

— the local school district targeted in the case, Elk Grove Unified School District, filed a motion Aug. 5 asking for Newdow’s case to be dismissed. The school district noted that Newdow, because of Banning’s legal status, “does not have the right to control [his daughter’s] education.” The district also stated that “under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance “to acknowledge the role of God in history” but was not done so for a specifically religious purpose.

— A columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle speculated that the San Francisco appeals court “probably is flinching as the public gets a hard look at Michael Newdow,” much as the nation “cringed” over the 2-1 decision against the Pledge of Allegiance. Debra Saunders, in a July 18 column, took note of Newdow’s bio which reported that, although he is an atheist, he also is an ordained minister in the “Universal Life Church”; he holds a “Doctor of the Universe Degree”; and started his “first religious institution while in junior high school.”

— An Internet campaign to collect 10 million signatures for a constitutional amendment protecting the Pledge of Allegiance has been launched by the American Family Association at www.Wepledge.com.

The proposed amendment, sponsored by Rep. Chip Pickering, R.-Miss., states that the First Amendment to the Constitution “shall not be construed to prohibit the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag, which shall be, ‘I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.'”

— Another Internet campaign, calling for an impeachment inquiry by the House Judiciary Committee of the two judges who ruled against the pledge, Alfred T. Goodwin and Stephen Reinhardt, has been launched by religious broadcaster Marlin Maddoux of Dallas. The campaign’s petition can be accessed at Maddoux’s talk show “Point of View” website, www.pointofview.net.

— Prior to his lawsuit against the Pledge of Allegiance in California, Newdow filed a similar suit when he was living in Florida in 1998 against the Broward County School District and against President Clinton and Congress, according to a July 1 report in the Fulton County (Ga.) Daily Report, which can be accessed at the www.law.com website.

U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro-Benages of the Southern District of Florida dismissed the suit, and her ruling was upheld after Newdow filed an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, the Daily Report noted.

Among Ungaro-Benages findings: There was no “allegation that his child is enrolled in the Broward County school system” and none “that his child was forced to recite the pledge of allegiance.”

— Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, writing in the AU journal Church & State’s July/August 2002 edition, recounted that, upon hearing of the 2-1 decision against the Pledge of Allegiance June 26, “Our first thought was that the ruling, while legally correct, would be wildly unpopular. Should we be vocal on this issue? As we discussed it, I thought back to the reported exchange between Henry David Thoreau, who had been jailed for an act of civil disobedience involving his opposition to slavery, and his jail visitor Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson asked, ‘Henry, why are you here?’ and Thoreau responded, ‘Why are you not here?’ How could Americans United not take this bull by the horns and stand up for two judges who had unquestionably done the right thing?”