WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court on Monday allowed millions of schoolchildren to keep affirming loyalty to one nation "under God" but dodged the underlying question of whether the Pledge of Allegiance is an unconstitutional blending of church and state.
The ruling overturned a lower court decision that the religious reference made the pledge unconstitutional in public schools. But the decision did so on technical grounds, ruling the man who brought the case on behalf of his 10-year-old daughter could not legally represent her. It was an anticlimactic end to an emotional high court showdown over God in the public schools and in public life. It also neutralizes what might have been a potent election-year political issue in which the Bush administration argued strongly that the reference to God should remain part of the pledge.
The outcome does not prevent a future court challenge over the same issue, however, and both defenders and opponents of the current wording predicted that fight will come quickly. For now, five justices said the court could not rule on the case because California atheist Michael Newdow does not have full custody of his daughter.
"When hard questions of domestic relations are sure to affect the outcome, the prudent course is for the federal court to stay its hand rather than reach out to resolve a weighty question of federal constitutional law," Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the majority.