It's such an emotional issue that one wonders what good could possibly come out of raising the issue other than to incense the so-called religious right and kill-all-heathens conservatives, but the case before the Supreme Court regarding the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance is a heroic, if sisyphean, effort.

In a scene that sounds like an Al Pacino courtroom thriller, Michael Newdow passionately argued his case before eight of the nine justices.

The New York Times describes it as such:

Dr. Newdow, a nonpracticing lawyer who makes his living as an emergency room doctor, may not win his case. In fact, justices across the ideological spectrum appeared to be searching for reasons he should lose, either on jurisdictional grounds or on the merits. But no one who managed to get a seat in the courtroom is likely ever to forget his spell-binding performance.

That includes the justices, whom Dr. Newdow engaged in repartee that, while never disrespectful, bore a closer resemblance to dinner-table one-upmanship than to formal courtroom discourse. For example, when Dr. Newdow described "under God" as a divisive addition to the pledge, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist asked him what the vote in Congress had been 50 years ago when the phrase was inserted.

The vote was unanimous, Dr. Newdow said.

"Well, that doesn't sound divisive," the chief justice observed.

Dr. Newdow shot back, "That's only because no atheist can get elected to public office."

The courtroom audience broke into applause, an exceedingly rare event that left the chief justice temporarily nonplussed. He appeared to collect himself for a moment, and then sternly warned the audience that the courtroom would be cleared "if there's any more clapping."

The Associated Press writes:

"My daughter's going to be able to walk around and say that `my father helped uphold the Constitution of the United States,'" he responded as a rapt, packed courtroom watched an unusually passionate argument in a case that will decide whether millions of public schoolchildren may continue pledging allegiance to one nation "under God."

A belief in a higher deity is not the issue. The point is that the Founding Fathers -- some of them atheist themselves -- wrote protections separating church and state precisely to prevent a tyranny of the majority.

I'm not holding my breath on this one, but Newdow is absolutely correct.


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