Friday, March 26, 2004

atheist in the foxhole
A year or so ago, Californian doctor and ornery atheist Michael Newdow won the initial round of his battle to stop his child having to swear religious loyalty oaths in class. Now he’s up against the Supreme Court, and sticking hard to his guns.

When Newdow, a physician who also has a law degree but has no appellate court experience, said "under God" is "divisive," Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist saw an opportunity to trip up a novice.

"Do we know what the vote was in Congress . . . to adopt the 'under God' phrase?" Rehnquist asked, feigning ignorance of the fact that it passed unopposed in 1954.

When Newdow acknowledged as much, the chief justice pounced: "Well, that doesn't sound divisive."
But Newdow would not be ambushed. "That's only because no atheist can get elected to public office," he countered, evoking spontaneous laughter and a sound rarely, if ever, heard at oral argument in Rehnquist's tightly run courtroom -- applause.

Although only one member of the court, Justice John Paul Stevens, seemed sympathetic to Newdow's position, the others appeared anything but certain about how to rule against him, if indeed they want to.

"The chief [justice] threw him a curveball, and I thought he grand-slammed it," said Richard Lazarus, a professor of law at Georgetown University. "That doesn't mean the justices were satisfied, but I think he did a very effective job."

via Sam Smith