THIS WEEK IN GOD…. First up from the God Machine this week is a court ruling on one of the more contentious church-state cases of the last decade.

Michael Newdow, a California-based atheist/activist, filed a federal lawsuit several years ago arguing that Congress violated the First Amendment when it added “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954. In 2002, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, sparking a political uproar. The U.S. Supreme Court eventually weighed in and scrapped the ruling, not on the merits, but because it concluded that Newdow lacked standing to file the case.

So, Newdow tried again, this time filing on behalf of other parents who objected to the phrase. In 2005, a federal district ruled in Newdow’s favor. This week, the 9th Circuit came to a different conclusion. (thanks to reader R.K. for the tip)

Judge Carlos Bea, who was appointed by Bush in 2003, wrote for the majority in Thursday’s 2-1 ruling.

“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,” he said.

The ruling concluded that Congress, by adding the words to the Pledge, intended to “inspire patriotism,” and as such “does not turn this patriotic exercise into a religious activity.”

Judge Stephen Reinhardt, who ruled in Newdow’s favor eight years ago, wrote a 123-page dissent, explaining, “Under no sound legal analysis adhering to binding Supreme Court precedent could this court uphold state-directed, teacher-led, daily recitation of the ‘under God’ version of the Pledge of Allegiance by children in public schools.”

Newdow intends to appeal. He concedes his chances are bleak.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* More trouble for the Vatican: “A burgeoning sex-abuse scandal among German priests escalated on Friday with a disclosure by Pope Benedict XVI’s former archdiocese, which said a priest known to the church as a sex abuser had been returned to pastoral work there while Benedict was the presiding archbishop in 1980. The priest later was convicted of a fresh abuse incident within the Munich-Freising archdiocese.”

* The Supreme Court announced this week that it would hear a case involving the Westboro Baptist Church, whose members are best known for protesting at funerals of American soldiers. As the “church” sees it, American military fatalities are divine punishment for the United States not hating gay people, and “church” member routinely carry placards at funerals that read “God Hates the USA/Thank God for 9/11” and “Semper fi fags.” A Maryland father sued the deranged “church” in 2006 after it protested his son’s funeral. The case was later thrown out by an appeals court, and will now be considered by the high court in its fall term.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.