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Deal made to speed appeal of pledge case

A strategy to expeditiously move Michael Newdow's challenge of the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance to an appellate court was agreed to Wednesday by a federal judge and attorneys on both sides.

Newdow, an atheist who works as an emergency room physician and is a non-practicing lawyer, is to file a motion by Oct. 26 for a permanent injunction barring at least two Sacramento area school districts from having their students recite the pledge.

The districts' replies to the motion are due Nov. 16, and then U.S. District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton will decide if he wants to hear oral arguments.

If Newdow's motion is properly supported, Karlton said he will issue a permanent injunction and stay its implementation pending appeal.

That will put the case in a posture suitable for appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Karlton ruled last month that teacher-led recitation of the pledge in public school classrooms is unconstitutionally coercive.

The judge said he was legally bound by a similar opinion issued by the 9th Circuit in 2003, but he refused to address the issue Newdow wants decided: whether the language of the pledge itself is a violation of the constitutional mandate against mixing religion and government.

Karlton also found, as did the U.S. Supreme Court last year, that Newdow has no standing as a plaintiff because he does not have primary custody of his daughter, who attends public school in Elk Grove.

Newdow remains, however, as attorney for two families whose children attend the Sacramento-area schools.

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