Judge Puts Brakes On Pledge Ban

Student recites Pledge of Allegiance, with US Constitution
AP
A day after he shocked the nation by declaring the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional, a federal appeals court judge put his ruling on hold Thursday.

Circuit Judge Alfred T. Goodwin, who wrote the 2-1 opinion that said the phrase "under God" violates the separation of church and state, stayed his ruling until other members of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decide whether to change course.

The appeals court can rehear the case with the same three judges, or an 11-judge panel.

Goodwin's action Thursday has no immediate impact, since the ruling already was on hold by court rules for 45 days to allow for any challenges.

Goodwin's original ruling sparked outrage across the political spectrum by ruling it is unconstitutional for schoolchildren to recite — or even be forced to listen to — the Pledge of Allegiance.

Legal scholars immediately said the ruling likely would be overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, if not reversed beforehand by the 9th Circuit.

"I would bet an awful lot on that," said Harvard University scholar Laurence Tribe.

Wednesday's ruling was in response to a California atheist's bid to keep his second-grade daughter from being exposed to religion in school.

Goodwin said leading schoolchildren in a pledge that says the United States is "one nation under God" is as objectionable as making them 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."

The decision was met with widespread criticism.

In a show of defiance, almost every member of the Senate showed up for a morning prayer Thursday, heads bowed, to affirm that the United States is "one nation under God," after a federal appeals court declared the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional.

Moments later, a nearly full House gathered to recite the pledge, with some shouting "under God." They followed with a sustained standing ovation. Both houses of Congress start each working day with the pledge, but typically only a few lawmakers are in the chambers to recite it.

But Wednesday's court ruling touched off something of a political frenzy. House members, who rushed to the steps in front of the Capitol on Wednesday to recite the Pledge of Allegiance immediately after the court's decision, planned to pass a resolution later Thursday condemning the ruling.

"We acknowledge the separation of sectarianism and state, but affirm the belief that there is no separation between God and state," Senate Chaplain Lloyd Ogilvie said in the morning prayer.

The Senate floor and partly filled visitors galleries were hushed as Ogilvie proclaimed that "we are one Senate, united under You, to lead a nation that is free to say confidently, 'In God we trust."'

President Bush sharply criticized the ruling, calling it "out of step" with American traditions and promising to appoint judges that see things his way.

"We need common-sense judges who understand that our rights were derived from God. Those are the kind of judges I intend to put on the bench," Bush added before a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of a world leaders' summit in western Canada.

The comments were Bush's first public response to Wednesday's ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco that the words ``under God'', added in 1954 to the Pledge of Allegiance, violated the Constitutional principle of separation of church and state.

In calling the Senate to order, its president pro tempore, Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., said Ogilvie would lead "the prayer to almighty God, the supreme judge of the world."

"We are one nation under God. We affirmed that today as Americans, not as Republicans or Democrats, and we did so proudly," said Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., who on Wednesday called the court's decision "nuts."

"What's next?" Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., asked Thursday. "Will our courts, in their zeal to abolish all religious faith from public arenas, outlaw 'God Bless America' too?"

The House began reciting the pledge in 1988, and the Senate in 1999.

"I think we need to send a clear message that the Congress disagrees, the Congress is going to intervene, the Congress is going to do all that it can do to live up to the expectations of the American people," Daschle said.

Other lawmakers, including Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., a potential 2004 presidential candidate, called for a constitutional amendment to make sure the words stay in the pledge.

"There may have been a more senseless, ridiculous decision issued by a court at some time, but I don't remember it," Lieberman said.

If Wednesday's ruling is not overturned by the full 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court probably will review the case next year, constitutional scholars said.

The 9th Circuit Court is known as the most liberal appeals court in the nation. Democrats and Republicans have been fighting all year over the pace of the Senate's confirmation of Bush's conservative judicial nominations.