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.

But whether or not the pledge is the most important of today's church-state issues, the Court's lack of a decision still leaves the status of "under God" undefined, said Douglas Laycock, professor of law at the University of Texas and author of the amicus brief filed by religious leaders in support of Newdow.

While all eight justices deciding the case (Justice Antonin Scalia recused himself from hearing or deciding the case because he had publicly criticized the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision) agreed with the decision that Newdow did not have standing, three of them--O'Connor, Rehnquist, and Thomas--filed opinions regarding the merit of the controversial issue.

"Michael Newdow's challenge to petitioner school district's policy is a well-intentioned one, but his distaste for the reference to 'one Nation under God,' however sincere, cannot be the yardstick of our Establishment Clause inquiry," wrote Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. "Certain ceremonial references to God and religion in our Nation are the inevitable consequence of the religious history that gave birth to our founding principles of liberty."

"The O'Connor opinion is the first effort by a justice to define the boundaries of the exception they've had [in the establishment clause] for ceremonial deism," Laycock said. "That's a step forward."

In the long run, Laycock said, "O'Connor's opinion may matter."

But both secularists and pledge supporters plan to keep pushing, ready for the next round of battles. That round may come sooner than many expect. A new pledge case is "imminent," said Silverman, implying that many details for bringing a new case have already been worked out. Silverman said he could not provide more specifics, however, and leaders of other atheist organizations weren't aware of a particular case in progress. Newdow said that he would support a case that was attached to someone else's name, and as a lawyer would be happy to argue it himself, as he did with his own case.

Lynn, of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, thought a future case would follow a similar route through the courts as the Newdow case. He expects the new case to be brought in California, where Newdow originally filed suit. "There's no reason to think that the Ninth Circuit will change its mind," Lynn said.

This week's results shed little light on how a new case would play out, if and when it reaches the Supreme Court.

"We're going to have another lawsuit. This time we'll succeed," vowed Silverman, of American Atheists.

Newdow was similarly sure of eventual victory. There was a reason, he said, that only three of the eight deciding justices offered opinions on the merits of the case, all upholding the pledge as it stands. "The other five probably knew full well that it should go the other way."

Laycock, the law professor, seemed to agree that "Under God" would eventually be overturned. "It was politically impossible to strike it down," he said, but it is "legally impossible to uphold it."

But Staver, the Liberty Counsel president, disagrees. "Even if a proper case is brought, the Supreme Court would uphold the constitutionality of the pledge," he said.

"It's over for now," he added, but when the issue returns, he said pro-pledge groups will be more prepared.

"We will aggressively defend any challenges to the pledge at the very first challenge," said Staver. "This case took a lot of people by surprise. It slipped under our radar screen until the Ninth Circuit issued its ruling. We won't let that happen again."

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