one nation under God violates constitution, say judges

Wednesday, June 26, 2002

American Flag.

“I Pledge Allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Sound file recited by John Wayne

The White House on Wednesday, June 26 strongly condemned a federal appeals court ruling that declared the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional because the words “under God” were added by the Congress in 1954.

“This is ridiculous,” said White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer on behalf of President George W. Bush about the unprecedented trial, the MSNBC network reported, as the ruling was announced.

However, judge Alfred T. Goodwin said that "a profession that we are a nation under God is identical, for Establishment Clause purposes, to a profession that we are a nation under Jesus, a nation under Vishnu, a nation under Zeus, or a nation under no god."

He added that “none of these professions can be neutral with respect to religion.” Judge Goodwin, who wrote for the three-judge panel, was joined in the decision by Judge Stephen Reinhardt.


The appeals court noted that when President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the 1954 legislation, he wrote that "millions of our schoolchildren will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and rural schoolhouse, the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty."

Judges argued that an atheist or a holder of certain non-Judeo-Christian beliefs could see the phrase as an endorsement of monotheism—a belief in a single god. The case was brought by Michael A. Newdow, a Sacramento atheist who acted as his own attorney.

Newdow reportedly objected because his second-grade daughter was required to recite the pledge at the Elk Grove Unified School District in Sacramento. He had filed a similar suit in Florida on behalf of his daughter in 1998, but that was apparantly dismissed because she wasn't yet of school age.


If allowed to stand, the ruling will prevent schoolchildren in the nine Western states covered by the court from reciting the pledge, legal analysts have said.

However the Justice Department, which had argued that the religious content of the phrase “one nation under God” is minimal, was expected to appeal. And legal experts believe there is a good chance that the ruling may be overturned.

Meanwhile, an MSNBC internet poll showed that 77 percent of those participating in it do not believe that the phrase “under God” endorses a specific religion or abridge freedom of worship, while 23 percent said that these words should not have been added.

Author: Stefan J. Bos, Special Correspondent ASSIST News Service with MSNBC and wire reports

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