SLSA Presents: Illusory Arguments in Support of "Under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance
South Royalton, Vermont – The Secular Law Students Association (SLSA) of Vermont Law School (VLS) were honored to host First Amendment attorney Michael Newdow as a speaker at their rural law school in the middle of Vermont. Newdow, also a practicing emergency room physician, is best known for his Supreme Court case challenging “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance as a violation of the Establishment Clause to the First Amendment. Newdow’s riveting speech on the Establishment Clause’s real history – a history that is somehow only superficially addressed in the standard 1,825-page Constitutional Law textbook – captivated a room full of students, staff, and highly esteemed faculty members.
The event, Illusory Arguments in Support of "Under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, was the counterpart of a two-part speaker series on the religion clauses of the First Amendment. Brothers and Sisters in Christ (B.A.S.I.C.) hosted the first event in the Spring Semester, 2011 with a speaker who defended the role of religion in government. Newdow’s speech was therefore critical to balancing out the separation of church and state debate on campus.
Newdow’s speech began with an introduction on the Establishment Clause and then delved into a debate on the constitutionality of “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. His debate took the form of playing audio clips from a recent interview he delivered on Your Weekly Constitutional (Appalachian Law School) with Greg Katsas, a Department of Justice (DOJ) attorney who defended the government’s position on the Pledge’s constitutionality. Deftly weaving canons of statutory interpretation, the history of the Establishment Clause, and the words of the Framers’ themselves, Newdow rebutted every argument proffered by Katsas with uncontested logic. Newdow demonstrated what the “wall of separation” between church and state really means and left little doubt as to the unconstitutionality of those two words in the Pledge. Newdow ended his talk by discussing plans to bring new challenges to the Pledge in the remaining federal circuit courts in the upcoming years.
This successful event was made possible in part by SSA funds. SLSA has received many thanks from faculty and students alike for bringing such a high-profile speaker to our small school in Vermont. The event inspired many students to get involved in separation of church and state issues and boosted SLSA membership interest. The SSA funds were allocated towards Newdow’s honorarium.