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Newdow widens pledge challenge

Sacramento atheist Michael Newdow said Tuesday that he expects to fight his next legal war against "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance on multiple fronts, with separate cases running simultaneously in several regions of the nation.

He said he'll file the first one in the next month or so in Sacramento federal court, listing himself and two families as plaintiffs, one from Elk Grove and the other from Stockton.

After filing in Sacramento, he plans similar suits in up to seven of the nation's other 11 judicial circuits. He said plaintiffs have signed on tentatively within the circuits based in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Denver, Atlanta and Richmond, Va.

In Newdow's last case against the pledge, his presentation won high praise from legal commentators, although the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed the suit in June without ruling on whether the Constitution is violated by exposing public-school children to "under God." The high court ruled that Newdow had no legal standing to raise the issue because he doesn't have primary custody of his daughter, a public-school student in Elk Grove.

For the new round of suits, he has been lining up families without custody complications. He declined to identify his prospective co-plaintiffs in Sacramento federal court but said both sets of parents will be identified on the legal complaint.

Newdow said a multicourt strategy will maximize chances of winning a victory at the circuit court level that would force the Supreme Court to review the case.

Although he won last time in the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, he said he is not confident of doing so again because the new case could be assigned to a more conservative panel of 9th Circuit judges.

The new suit also will differ from the old one by including historical information about the pledge and the First Amendment to address remarks made by some Supreme Court justices, Newdow said.

On the other side of the legal debate, Jim Elliott, spokesman for Elk Grove Unified School District, said Tuesday that the district's "position on the constitutionality of teachers leading willing students in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance hasn't changed."

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The Bee's Claire Cooper can be reached at (415) 551-7701 or