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In the Crossfire

Pledge plaintiff explains why he sued

(CNN) -- He's known as the man who took on the Pledge of Allegiance.

Atheist Michael Newdow, a Sacramento, California, physician with a law degree, objected to his second-grade daughter being required to recite the pledge in the Elk Grove school district, and he sued, eventually igniting a national controversy.

In a June 26 decision in the case, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools is an unconstitutional endorsement of religion because of the addition of the phrase "under God" by Congress in 1954.

Circuit Judge Alfred T. Goodwin, who wrote the 2-1 opinion, blocked it from taking effect while the case is being appealed. If the ruling stands, it would prevent schoolchildren in nine Western states that make up the circuit from saying the oath.

Newdow steps into the "Crossfire" with hosts Paul Begala and Robert Novak.

BEGALA: Well, Mr. Newdow, my problem -- in addition to disagreeing with the substance of your lawsuit -- let me take the politics out of it.

As a liberal myself, there are a whole lot of things that I think people on the left ought to be upset about. Not the least of which is today my kids couldn't play outside in Washington, D.C., because the air was so polluted. Not the least of which is that these corporate criminals are taking over these companies with insider trading deals that we're now learning about almost every day. And on and on and on.

John Ashcroft is shredding the Constitution, while he puts burkas on statues with naked women.

Of all the things that you could be upset about, why pick this?

NEWDOW: First of all, I don't think people understand -- atheists are really a disenfranchised minority in this country. There are six constitutions right now -- state constitutions -- that say things like what South Carolina says that, "No person who denies the existence of a supreme being shall hold any office under this Constitution."

Can you imagine somebody having -- a state having no person could -- no Jew could hold an office under this constitution, no black.

Atheists are just very disenfranchised, and I think that people need to stand up for their rights.

I didn't make a big deal out of it -- everybody else did. I just brought a lawsuit.

BEGALA: Well, you made a federal case out of it -- literally.

I'm going to ask our audience -- how many of you are more worried about these corporate criminals than you are about whether or not kids can say "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance?

Which should we be focusing on? There's a huge consensus here. I don't know if you can see that, Mr. Newdow, but people -- they are a lot more worried about their jobs and their economic freedom than they are about whether a passing phrase is -- reference is made to God.

NEWDOW: I'm not the one putting me on your show. It's everybody else that's making it a big issue.

BEGALA: No -- but you made it a federal case. You have to be fair.

NEWDOW: I filed a lawsuit. It cost $150, and that's all I did.

NOVAK: Mr. Newdow, that's really disingenuous because the thing that really got to me when I started reading about you is that you spent 4,000 hours -- 4,000 hours in preparing for this case.

And I'd like to read you a quote from Kathleen Doncaster. She's a parent in the Elk Grove school district where you filed the suit. And she said about the pledge, "It's about being American. He needs to get a hobby."

Have you ever thought of spending your time watching basketball or something like that? It's better than spending 4,000 hours on this ridiculous case.

NEWDOW: I think there probably are a lot of people in this nation who spend 4,000 hours watching basketball. I'd rather uphold the Constitution.

NOVAK: Well, upholding the Constitution -- you see, a lot of people think that -- I'll make you a little bet. There is no chance in the world that this is going to get through the Supreme Court. I don't think it's going to even get through the left-wing 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

This is just a -- you knew you just wasted 4,000 hours and you really injured your daughter.

NEWDOW: No, my daughter is not part of this although she's a wonderful kid.

NOVAK: She's not a part of it? I thought she was.

NEWDOW: No -- she's -- it's my right as a parent to be able to send my child to school and not have government implicate religious belief.




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