Conservative religious organizations were hardly indivisible in responding to the Supreme Court's decision-or rather, indecision-on the Pledge of Allegiance.

Focus on the Family's James Dobson, for example, said the Court "showed a lack of principle that is truly appalling," while American Center for Law and Justice chief counsel Jay Sekulow praised the justices' "proper conclusion."

The majority was probably right to throw out the case based on atheist Michael Newdow's standing, since the mother of his daughter has "exclusive legal custody," and she's an evangelical who wants her daughter to recite the Pledge as it is. If someone with no custody rights can bring a suit on behalf of his daughter against the wishes of a parent with exclusive custody, the term has no meaning. Besides, Newdow's daughter is also a Christian, so even if he won, his daughter would have continued to recognize herself "under God."

But it's almost irrelevant. Observers almost unanimously agreed that Newdow was going to lose. Other "under God" challenges are already working their way through lower courts, and analysts say they won't succeed either.

What we don't know, however, is why the justices will support the phrase. And that's why the concurring opinions are so important-they offer fundamentally differing views of religion in the public square.

Historical opportunities

Chief Justice William Rehnquist says the Pledge's religious language is okay because it's historical. "Our national culture allows public recognition of our Nation's religious history and character," he wrote. "The phrase 'under God' in the Pledge seems, as a historical matter, to sum up the attitude of the Nation's leaders, and to manifest itself in many of our public observances. ...

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