Taking on the Pledge of Allegiance

The News Media and Michael Newdow's Constitutional Challenge

By Ronald Bishop
Foreword by Nadine Strossen

Subjects: Mass Media
Paperback : 9780791471821, 216 pages, August 2007
Hardcover : 9780791471814, 216 pages, August 2007

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Table of contents

1. Master Myths, Frames, Narratives, and Guard Dogs
2. A Case of First Impression
3. An Impermissible Message of Endorsement
4. A Reputation for Unorthodox Opinions
5. Their Own Little World
6. The Good Mother
7. On to the Supreme Court
8. Tepid and Diluted
9. Nice Try, Young Man
10. We’re Saved—For Now

Explores atheist Michael Newdow’s constitutional challenge and how the news media marginalized him from the moment the Ninth Circuit handed down its controversial ruling that the Pledge of Allegiance was unconstitutional.


Taking on the Pledge of Allegiance explores the landmark lawsuit filed by avowed atheist Michael Newdow against the Elk Grove Unified School District in California, in which he claimed the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance amounted to an unconstitutional endorsement of religion. Newdow's original suit was ignored by the public and the news media until June 26, 2002, when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Pledge of Allegiance was unconstitutional. This decision touched off a firestorm of negative reaction, both from politicians and from the public. The U. S. Supreme Court eventually overturned the ruling on Flag Day 2004.

This book contains interviews with many of the parties involved, including Newdow and journalists who covered the case. Ronald Bishop examines how the news media marginalized Newdow after the Ninth Circuit's ruling—acting as a "guard dog" for the government and for the ideas supposedly at the ideological heart of America—by framing the decision as an aberration, a radical act by a hopelessly liberal federal circuit court. Bishop concludes that journalists relegated Newdow to a rhetorical "protest zone"—he was heard, but from a safe distance.

Ronald Bishop is Associate Professor in the Department of Culture and Communication at Drexel University.


"Taking on the Pledge of Allegiance offers political scientists and lawyers a fresh perspective on a controversial issue and legal case … Bishop also raises hard questions about the media and their role in American democracy. " — Law & Politics Book Review

"…Bishop persuasively explains … and, in the process, raises important questions about journalism for us all to ponder. " — American Journalism

"As long as people believe that the media represent antiestablishment values, this book needs to be read. As long as reporters mislead themselves into believing they are watchdogs and not lapdogs of the establishment, this book needs to be read. And as long as the media continue to trivialize complex issues and marginalize people who challenge us, this book needs to be read. We need more books like this one. " — Chris Lamb, author of Drawn to Extremes: The Use and Abuse of Editorial Cartoons