"The Supreme Court at least temporarily preserved the phrase "one nation, under God," in the Pledge of Allegiance, ruling Monday that a California atheist could not challenge the patriotic oath while sidestepping the broader question of separation of church and state.
The decision leaves untouched the practice in which millions of schoolchildren around the country begin the day by reciting the pledge.
The court said the atheist could not sue to ban the pledge from his daughter's school and others because he did not have legal authority to speak for her.
The father, Michael Newdow, is in a protracted custody fight with the girl's mother. He does not have sufficient custody of the child to qualify as her legal representative, eight members of the court said. Justice Antonin Scalia did not participate in the case.
'When hard questions of domestic relations are sure to affect the outcome, the prudent course is for the federal court to stay its hand rather than reach out to resolve a weighty question of federal constitutional law,' Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the court.
Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist agreed with the outcome of the case, but still wrote separately to say that the Pledge as recited by schoolchildren does not violate the Constitution. Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Clarence Thomas agreed with him."
June 14, 2004 Associated Press