Yet the pledge continues to have its critics, with some pointing out the irony of requiring citizens to swear fealty to a nation that prizes freedom of thought and speech. The historian Richard J. Ellis, author of the 2005 book To the Flag: The Unlikely History of the Pledge of Allegiance , acknowledges that the oath is “paradoxical and puzzling,” but he also admires the aspirational quality of its spare poetry. “The appeal of Bellamy’s pledge is the statement of universal principles,” he says, “which transcends the particular biases or agendas of the people who created it.”
In 2004, the . Supreme Court accepted a case ( Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow ) that challenged the use of “under God” in the Pledge, but the high court did not rule on the question of whether the Pledge is constitutional under the First Amendment. Instead, a five-justice majority said that atheist Michael Newdow did not have legal standing to bring the case on behalf of his daughter because he did not have legal custody of her. Standing is a legal concept that only those with a legitimate stake in a case’s outcome can be a party to a lawsuit.