Beliefnet
It was just a few hours after the U.S. Supreme Court tossed out Elk Grove Unified School District vs. Newdow, but New Jersey atheist Janice Rael already had poster slogans ready for the protest she was organizing later in the day.

"Under God is Not Under the Constitution" and "Freedom Is No Technicality" were among her placard suggestions for a rally in front of Philadelphia's Federal Courthouse.

So was the more ominous, "We'll Be Back."

Though the Supreme Court threw out the Pledge of Allegiance case on a technicality--ruling that defendant Michael Newdow didn't have standing to bring the case in his daughter's name because he did not have custody--people on both sides of the case agree: this ruling does not represent the end of the Pledge of Allegiance controversy.

"This opens the door for the case to be reheard," said Rael, president of the Delaware Valley chapter of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.

"I would guess [another case] is inevitable," said Mark Tooley, the director of the United Methodist committee for the Institute for Religion and Democracy, a conservative organization in Washington.

Newdow, upset by the Court's focus on his custody issues, vowed, "We're going to come back. It's just a delay."

The Court's lack of a ruling on the merits of the case--whether or not the inclusion of the words "Under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance violates the separation of church and state--disappointed many observers, and seemed to merely postpone an eventual ruling on this controversial phrase. "The Supreme Court has been fantastic at ducking these issues," said Dave Silverman, spokesman for American Atheists. "This doesn't make the issue go away."

"There will be people lined up to bring this next lawsuit," agreed the Rev. Barry Lynn, president of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.

Some conservative groups, though pleased by the outcome of the Supreme Court ruling, which effectively overturns the Ninth Circuit court's ruling and restores the recital of the Pledge, under God and all, to classrooms in California, also realize the pledge battle isn't over.

Mathew Staver, president of the Liberty Counsel, a conservative legal and policy group, said his organization was happy with the Court's ruling. "A victory is a victory, whether it's on the merits or not," he said. But he does expect the pledge issue to resurface.

Other conservatives expressed more outrage about the lack of a firm decision. "The Supreme Court does not emerge from this case the defender of America's moral and Christian heritage--in fact, it showed a lack of principle that is truly appalling," said James Dobson, president of Focus on the Family, in a press release. "By refusing to rule on the substance of the case, the Supreme Court has left the door open for additional challenges to our nation's godly foundation--one which is reflected on our currency, in our government buildings--including the Supreme Court's own chamber--and in the oaths we take."

But any new challenge to the pledge will take long enough that the decision won't affect the presidential campaign--precisely what many believe the justices want to avoid. "In an election year, the Court decided this was too volatile and divisive an issue, and that they would rather not decide this," said Susan Jacoby, director of the Center for Inquiry Metro New York and author of the recent "Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism."

Several others thought there were political reasons behind the Supreme Court's failure to decide the case. "Some of the justices might have feared this would throw gasoline on the fires of the culture wars," said the Rev. Barry Lynn, president of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.

On both sides, a few observers saw some advantage to the decision. Nathan Diamant, director of the Orthodox Union's Institute for Public Affairs, which favors the clause, said the Court had no choice. Had they not thrown the case out on this technicality, he said, "that would wreak havoc in the area of family law."

And though disappointed that the decision was overturned on a technicality, some atheists thought that a postponement of a ruling on the pledge would help their case in the long run. "The longer people discuss the issue, the more people begin to agree that 'Under God' is divisive," said Bobbie Kirkhart, president of Atheist Alliance International.

Others, secularists and faithful alike, think it's time to move on. "This was never the preeminent issue for secularists in America," Jacoby explained. "For me, George Bush's faith-based program is at the top of my list. The pledge case is very far down on the list."

The Rev. Bruce Prescott, president of the Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists, agreed it wasn't a paramount issue. "For people of faith and those who are concerned about the separation of church and state, there are a lot more issues that are more pressing than that," he said.

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