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Pledge of Allegiance ruling outrageous on many fronts


It’s a sad day in America when a court rules that leading students in the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional.

So sad and so ridiculous, in fact, that the judge who wrote the opinion on Wednesday turned around Thursday and put the ruling on hold.

A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court in California ruled in the wake of a lawsuit filed by atheist Michael A. Newdow. He argued that his daughter's First Amendment rights were harmed because she was forced to “watch and listen as her (California) state-employed teacher in her state-run school leads her classmates in a ritual proclaiming that there is a God, and that ours is ‘one nation under God.’”

The words “under God” were added by Congress in 1954 during the Cold War. President Dwight Eisenhower authorized the change and said, “In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America's heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country's most powerful resource in peace and war.”

The “under God” clause of the pledge, the Circuit Court majority opinion argued, was added by Congress solely to advance religion in order to differentiate the United States from nations under atheistic Communist rule.

Adding the clause for that reason, Judge Alfred T. Goodwin wrote, runs counter to the First Amendment, “which prohibits the government's endorsement or advancement not only of one particular religion at the expense of other religions, but also of religion at the expense of atheism.”

Leading children to recite a pledge proclaiming the United States is “one nation under God” is as objectionable as asking them to say “we are a nation ‘under Jesus,’ a nation ‘under Vishnu,’ a nation ‘under Zeus,’ or a nation ‘under no god,’ because none of these professions can be neutral with respect to religion,” Goodwin wrote.

“The declaration of God in the Pledge of Allegiance doesn’t violate rights,“ President Bush said shortly after hearing about the decision. “As a matter of fact, it’s a confirmation of the fact that we received our rights from God, as proclaimed in our Declaration of Independence.”

The English settlers who landed on our East Coast in the middle of the last century brought with them a strong Judeo-Christian belief system which was at the core of their families and communities. As independence was won and a nation was founded, others like them also came here for many reasons, including the freedom of speech and the freedom to worship as they wished -- or not to worship at all. The result is a nation to which people from around the globe continue to immigrate for those same reasons and others. We are a true melting pot of cultures and religions from around the world.

But even with the growth of demographic groups of non-European heritage, the Judeo-Christian belief system was still held by 85 percent of the United States population in 1999, the most recent year for which numbers are available from the U.S. Census Bureau. And this explains why the outrage has been so widespread. Most of the country has been saying the Pledge of Allegiance since they were children. Now someone comes along and files suit, claiming that his daughter shouldn’t have to hear the words “under God,” and a panel of judges decides that schoolchildren shouldn’t be led in the pledge any more.

What about freedom of speech? Isn’t it being completely thrown into the garbage can if this ruling stands? The common-sense approach would be for the schoolgirl or any other person who does not wish to say the Pledge of Allegiance to just not say it. In 1943, the Supreme Court ruled that nobody can be forced to say the Pledge. That’s the way it should be in an open society with freedom of speech. But what a lower court is saying is that teachers should not even lead the class in saying the Pledge as long as the words “under God” are in it.

In 1984, members of the Supreme Court said references like "In God We Trust," which appears on United States currency and coins, were protected from the First Amendment application because their religious significance had been lost through rote repetition.

It is outrageous that the Circuit Court judges failed to consider that fact, and their quick decision to put a hold on the decision hopefully indicates that the outrage of a nation is being heard.

This column was written June 27, 2002, and published in several print publications across the country.

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