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Supreme Court rejects pledge challenge

Case of the reluctant cowboy also rejected

From Bill Mears
CNN Washington

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America,
and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God,
indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Supreme Court

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Supreme Court on Monday rejected efforts by a California atheist to revisit the issue of banning the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools because of its use of the words "under God."

The justices without comment denied the latest appeal by Michael Newdow, who lost his case in June on a technicality.

The high court, in an 8-0 ruling, said Newdow, a physician and lawyer, did not have standing to bring the suit on behalf of his third-grade daughter because he does not have custody of her.

The ruling -- delivered on Flag Day -- means the full pledge will continue to be recited in the nation's public schools.

With their decision, justices overturned a controversial 2002 ruling by a lower federal court, but did not decide the central question of whether teacher-led recitation of the pledge in public schools is unconstitutional because of "under God," which some people believe is a government endorsement of religion.

That mixed ruling ensured the controversy will linger, with other parents who oppose the pledge free to pursue lawsuits.

Newdow could file another appeal if he gains full custody of his daughter.

Newdow originally sued the Elk Grove Unified School District in Sacramento County, California. While legal precedent makes reciting the pledge voluntary, Newdow said it becomes unconstitutional when students are forced to hear it, and he argued that the teacher-led recitations carry the stamp of government approval.

The Bush administration took the school district's side, with then-Solicitor General Theodore Olson telling the justices the pledge was simply a "ceremonial, patriotic exercise."

Unidentified cowboy

In a separate matter, the justices dismissed Monday efforts to revisit the case of a Nevada cowboy who was arrested by police after refusing to reveal his identity.

The court in June ruled 5-4 that Larry "Dudley" Hiibel could not refuse to give his name to officers who tried to question him along a roadside, in a case testing the relative weight of an individual's rights and public safety.

Police had been responding to reports from witnesses of a domestic disturbance. Officers pulled up to Hiibel's truck and found him arguing with his teenage daughter. Hiibel was asked 11 times to produce identification, but refused.

In his majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy said law enforcement in this incident acted properly.

"Asking questions is an essential part of police investigation. In the ordinary sense a police officer is free to ask a person for identification without implicating the Fourth Amendment," wrote Kennedy.

"Knowledge of identity may inform an officer that a suspect is wanted of another offense, or has a record of violence or mental disorder. On the other hand, knowing identity may help clear a suspect and allow the police to concentrate their efforts elsewhere."

Hiibel said he was standing up for his rights.

"This case isn't just about me. It's about all Americans," he said. "What happened on Grass Valley Road, I think, is alien to all Americans. I think we've enjoyed our freedoms and I don't think most Americans want them trampled on."

The identification case is Hiibel v. Sixth Judicial District Court (03-5554).

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