ELK GROVE UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT AND DAVID W. GORDON, SUPERINTENDENT v. MICHAEL A. NEWDOW et al.
Supreme Court Cases
542 U.S. 1 (2004)
Reversed. Petitioning party received a favorable disposition.
Petitioner school district requires each elementary school class to recite daily the Pledge of Allegiance. Respondent Newdow’s daughter participated in this exercise. Newdow, an atheist, filed suit alleging that, because the Pledge contains the words “under God,” it constitutes religious indoctrination of his child in violation of the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses. He also alleged that he had standing to sue on his own behalf and on behalf of his daughter as “next friend.” The Magistrate Judge concluded that the Pledge was constitutional, and the District Court agreed and dismissed the complaint. The Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that Newdow had standing as a parent to challenge a practice that interfered with his right to direct his daughter’s religious education, and that the school district’s policy violates the Establishment Clause. Sandra Banning, the child’s mother, then filed a motion to intervene or dismiss, declaring, inter alia, that she had exclusive legal custody under a state-court order and that, as her daughter’s sole legal custodian, she felt it was not in the child’s interest to be a party to Newdow’s suit. Concluding that Banning’s sole legal custody did not deprive Newdow, as a noncustodial parent, of Article III standing to object to unconstitutional government action affecting his child, the Ninth Circuit held that, under California law, Newdow retains the right to expose his child to his particular religious views even if they contradict her mother’s, as well as the right to seek redress for an alleged injury to his own parental interests.