On Thursday, a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco by a 2-1 vote rejected a lawsuit filed by Michael Newdow, an atheist father, emergency room doctor and lawyer from Sacramento.
Newdow, who represented a mother with a kindergarten-age child in the Rio Linda Union School District, claimed that having teachers lead children in reciting the pledge with the reference to God was an unconstitutional government establishment of religion.
But the appeals court majority turned down that claim, saying that the pledge is patriotic, not religious.
Newdow said he plans to appeal to an expanded 11-judge panel of the appeals court and then to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.
Newdow said, "I'm disappointed. I believe our government is supposed to treat all religious views with equal respect and I don't think it's doing that."
The case was the second time Newdow's challenge to the wording came before the appeals court.
In an earlier decision in 2002, the appeals court ruled by a 2-1 vote that requiring children to hear the pledge with the reference to God was unconstitutional.
That decision created a firestorm of controversy and eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which dismissed it on a technical ground. Newdow then refiled the lawsuit on behalf of the unidentified atheist mother.
In the majority ruling on Thursday, Judge Carlos Bea said Congress had a patriotic and not a religious purpose when it revised the pledge in 1954 to refer to "one nation under God."
Bea wrote, "The Pledge of Allegiance serves to unite our vast nation through the proud recitation of some of the ideals upon which our republic was founded."
Judge Stephen Reinhardt argued in a lengthy dissent that amended wording had "an undeniably religious purpose" and charged that the majority ruling "defies and distorts" precedents set by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Also on Thursday, the same panel by a unanimous vote rejected a second lawsuit in which Newdow challenged the use of the words "In God We Trust" on U.S. coins and currency.