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Appeals court delays effect of pledge ruling

SAN FRANCISCO (BP)–A federal appeals court has postponed enforcement of its decision outlawing the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued March 4 a 90-day stay of its own ruling against recitation of the pledge. The court had announced Feb. 28 it would not reconsider a June decision in which a three-judge panel ruled the pledge’s inclusion of “under God” is a violation of the First Amendment’s ban on government establishment of religion.

The opinion was set to take effect March 17 in the nine states of the Ninth Circuit, but the court granted the stay at the request of the Elk Grove Unified School District, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Michael Newdow, a self-described atheist, had challenged recitation of the pledge in the Sacramento (Calif.) County district.

Elk Grove School superintendent Dave Gordon said the district plans to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the Ninth Circuit opinion by the end of April, the Chronicle reported.

The stay is “very good news,” Gordon told the newspaper, “because we want to see the matter heard before the Supreme Court, and we want our children to keep saying the pledge as written until such time as the Supreme Court rules.”

In its Feb. 28 order, the Ninth Circuit Court, which is located in San Francisco, declined to rehear the case as an 11-member panel. The divided court also issued an amended opinion that basically maintained the central holding in the case but tightened its scope. The revised decision did not strike down a 1954 federal law adding “under God” to the pledge, as its June ruling had. Instead, the amended opinion banned classroom recitations of the pledge.

Southern Baptist church-state specialist Richard Land and other religious conservatives decried the amended opinion and the court’s refusal to rehear the case.

The Ninth Circuit Court “underscored its well-earned reputation as the most liberal federal court in America, as well as the most hostile to religious expression in public venues,” said Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

The Ninth Circuit panel’s June decision immediately ignited a firestorm of criticism — and not just from religious conservatives. The panel quickly stayed enforcement of the ruling. The Senate promptly approved a resolution affirming the pledge by a 99-0 vote. In early October, the House of Representatives passed a similar measure by a 401-5 vote.

In addition to California, the states affected by the decision are Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. The Ninth Circuit Court is located in San Francisco.

The case is Newdow v. U.S. Congress.

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