Jonah Goldberg of National Review Online offers a delicious take today on Michael Newdow, the physician/lawyer/professional litigant who argues that the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance violate the First Amendment’s requirement of church-state separation. (Newdow’s appearance before the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday to argue his case was the subject of a gushing New York Times story by reporter Linda Greenhouse, who seldom fails to clue in NYT readers as to what side of a case she’s on). Here’s Jonah on atheist Newdow’s claim that he was hurt, hurt, hurt by the fact that his daughter was required to listen to the pledge as recited by her classmates in a Sacramento, Calif., elementary school (the notoriously liberal federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeal sided with Newdow, and the school district is appealing):
“I’m sorry but this country may have been established to protect individual rights, but it wasn’t founded to cater to the feelings of every individual. Newdow is unconcerned by the fact that if he got his way he’d be slapping, literally, hundreds of millions of Americans in the face. He thinks that’s fair because of his ego and because his capacity for abstraction affords him the ability to shove his head up his own butt and mistake the darkness for a temple of reason.”
Whatever you think of the merits of the case–and many constitutional law experts believe that Newdow might have something there, because the Supreme Court has been so rigid in its interpretation of church-state separation in the past–one thing is clear: Newdow is a litigation child abuser. His insistence on dragging his daughter, now age 9, into lawsuit after lawsuit in order to get court backing for his own religious (or anti-religious views) is something that the press, which is generally sympathetic to his case and seems to regard him as a genius because he graduated from medical school, seems to have assiduously avoided.
As everyone now knows, the little girl is from all reports not an atheist like her father. In fact, she hasn’t lived with her father for years, if ever, because Newdow and the girl’s mother, Sandra Banning, never married and have long since split up; the girl has always lived with her mother. Until very recently–months after the 9th Circuit handed down its decision–Bannning had sole legal custody of her daughter, although last year, after the Supreme Court took the case, Newdow won some sort of joint-custody rights. Banning is a devout evangelical Christian who teaches Sunday School, and the girl regularly attends church with her mother. The terms of the joint custody agreement prohibit Newdow from proselytizing atheism to his daughter or undermining Banning’s religion.
Nonetheless, Newdow pretended for months that the little girl lived with him and felt as hurt as he does when her classmates recited the offending “under God” in the pledge, as is customary each morning in her local school district. Indeed, Newdow’s lawsuit challenging the pledge alleged that his daughter was compelled to “watch and listen” to the offending words, which harmed her. After Newdow won his 9th Circuit victory, reporters interviewing him in his home couldn’t help but notice that the child wasn’t around. Newdow claimed that the girl had been “threatened” by anonymous telephone callers and was now in “a safe place.” The “safe place,” of course, was Banning’s home, where the girl had been living all along. Banning told reporters that far from feeling hurt by the pledge, the little girl recited the offending words voluntarily along with her classmates and was troubled by the 9th Circuit’s decision. Newdow immediately changed his tune in his court papers, claiming that the words “under God” interfered with his right as a parent to direct his child’s religious education.
This isn’t the first time that Newdow has used his child as a litigation stalking horse for his own personal beefs against the trace elements of religion he finds in American public life. In 1998, while living in South Florida, he filed a nearly identical lawsuit against the school district in Broward County to remove the words “under God” from the pledge, but the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals threw out the suit because the girl wasn’t attending school and no longer even lived in Florida (Newdow’s apparent position: Hey, she might move back someday).
Also in 1998, Newdow dropped an earlier suit to have the words “In God We Trust” removed from U.S. currency, and in 2000 he unsucessfully sued to prevent the Rev. Franklin Graham from saying a prayer at President G.W. Bush’s inauguration.
Newdow has a right to try to use the courts, if they’ll let him, to launch his personal crusade against religion. But dragging a small child into court in order to manufacture a legal case is another story–and that’s what Newdow has been doing since his daughter was about 4 years old. I hope the Supreme Court throws out the case on the ground that Newdow, as an absentee parent, lacks the legal standing to pursue his private vendetta.