Alfred T. Goodwin, Judge in Pledge of Allegiance Case, Dies at 99 He ruled the pledge unconstitutional because the words “under God” violated the separation of church and state. The Supreme Court reversed the ruling.
Alfred T. Goodwin, a federal judge who caused a furor in 2002 when he wrote the majority opinion in a decision that declared the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional, finding that the phrase “one nation under God” violated the separation of church and state — a ruling that was later reversed by the Supreme Court
Nominated by President Richard M. Nixon, Judge Goodwin, who spent nearly all his legal career on the bench, was one of the longest-serving federal jurists in United States history. He started in 1969 as a district court judge in Oregon, and then served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which covers nine western states, for 51 years, until his death.
It was as a member of that court that he joined in a 2-to-1 decision that struck down the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools. He wrote in his majority opinion that the words “under God” in the pledge were as objectionable as “we are a nation ‘under Jesus,’ a nation ‘under Vishnu,’ a nation ‘under Zeus,’ or a nation ‘under no God’” would be.
The ruling came in a case filed by an atheist, Michael Newdow, against a school district near Sacramento where his daughter attended elementary school.
Judge Goodwin wrote that in defending the words “under God” in the pledge, the district was “conveying a message of state endorsement of religious belief.” The ruling compelled public schools in the court's jurisdiction to stop requiring teachers to lead students in the pledge.
The political blowback was immediate, coming amid a wave of patriotism in the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.