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Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

Religious Freedom and the Pledge of Allegiance

Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

picture of panel participants

Religious Freedom and the Pledge of Allegiance
Location: Gasson Hall 305 (Fulton Debate Room), Boston College
Date: October 18, 2006
Time: 6:00-7:30 PM

Every day millions of Americans, many of them schoolchildren, are asked to pledge their allegiance to the American flag and to "the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." By invoking God, does this familiar act of citizenship constitute a profession of faith or simply an acknowledgement that Americans have historically believed in God? In either case, does it imply that a good citizen must believe in God? This panel will discuss the Pledge's invocation of a nation "under God," and its implications for religious freedom in this country.

Among the panelists is Michael Newdow, who sued the U.S. Congress over this issue and personally argued his case before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2004. A federal appeals court in California had caused a national uproar two years earlier when it agreed with Newdow in a ruling that would have banned the phrase "under God" from schoolhouse recitations of the Pledge. Despite hearing the case (Elk Grove v. Newdow), the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately declined to rule on the issue for technical legal reasons, but Mr. Newdow has re-filed his case, which many expect to return to the Supreme Court in the coming years for final resolution. Joining Mr. Newdow on the panel are lawyer and social critic Wendy Kaminer, and constitutional scholar Phillip Muñoz. Professor Alan Wolfe, Director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life, will moderate the event.

headshot of Wendy Kaminer

Wendy Kaminer, a lawyer and social critic, writes about law, liberty, feminism, religion, and popular culture. Her latest book is Free for All: Defending Liberty in America Today. A former Guggenheim fellow, she is the author of six previous books, including Sleeping with Extra-Terrestrials: The Rise of Irrationalism and Perils of Piety; True Love Waits: Essays and Criticism; It's All the Rage: Crime and Culture; I'm Dysfunctional, You're Dysfunctional: The Recovery Movement & Other Self-Help Fashions; and A Fearful Freedom: Women's Flight from Equality. Her articles and reviews have appeared in numerous publications including The New York Times, The Atlantic Monthly, The Wall Street Journal, The American Prospect, Dissent, The Nation, Newsweek, and Free Inquiry. She is currently working (slowly) on a book about ethics for Beacon Press. 

photo of Michael Newdow

Michael Newdow is a lawyer, physician and First Amendment activist whose legal challenge to the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance reached the Supreme Court in 2004 (Elk Grove v. Newdow). Newdow personally argued the case before the Court, and although he lost 5-3 on standing grounds, his performance was called "spellbinding" by The New York Times, "virtuoso" by NPR, and the "Best Oral Argument" of the entire Supreme Court term by the Daily Journal. He practices emergency medicine in Sacramento, California, where he has also filed a legal challenge in federal court to the national motto "In God We Trust." Newdow holds a B.A. from Brown University, an M.D. from the UCLA School of Medicine, and a J.D from the University of Michigan Law School.

picture of Philip Munoz

Phillip Muñoz teaches and studies political philosophy and American constitutional law. His recent scholarly articles include, "James Madison's Principles of Religious Liberty" and "George Washington on Religious Liberty." His writings have appeared in American Political Science Review, The Review of Politics, First Things, The Claremont Review of Books, and The Wall Street Journal. In 2004 he testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the matter of "Religion in the Public Square." Professor Muñoz received his BA in Economics and Government from Claremont McKenna College, his MA in Political Science from Boston College, and his PhD in Political Science from Claremont Graduate School. He is currently completing a book on religious freedom and the American Founders. 

Professor Alan Wolfe at podium

Alan Wolfe is Professor of Political Science and Director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College. His most recent books include Does American Democracy Still Work? (Yale University Press) Return to Greatness: How America Lost Its Sense of Purpose and What it Needs to Do to Recover It (Princeton University Press, 2005), The Transformation of American Religion: How We actually Practice our Faith (Free Press, 2003), and An Intellectual in Public (University of Michigan Press, 2003). Both One Nation, After All and Moral Freedom were selected as New York Times Notable Books of the Year.