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Conservative, liberal editorial pages find common ground on Pledge

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Editorial writers across the nation responded with overwhelming support for the Pledge of Allegiance in June 27 newspapers. Conservative and liberal newspapers found common ground on the issue of whether or not “under God” should be removed from the Pledge. Following, is a sampling of some June 27 editorials.

— The New York Times

Half a century ago, at the height of anti-Communist fervor, Congress added the words “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance. It was a petty attempt to link patriotism with religious piety, to distinguish us from the godless Soviets. But after millions of repetitions over the years, the phrase has become part of the backdrop of American life, just like the words “In God We Trust” on our coins and “God bless America” uttered by presidents at the end of important speeches.

Yesterday, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in California ruled 2 to 1 that those words in the pledge violate the First Amendment, which says that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” The majority sided with Michael Newdow, who had complained that his daughter is injured when forced to listen to public school teachers lead students daily in a pledge that includes the assertion that there is a God.

This is a well-meaning ruling, but it lacks common sense. A generic two-word reference to God tucked inside a rote civic exercise is not a prayer. Mr. Newdow’s daughter is not required to say either the words “under God” or even the pledge itself, as the Supreme Court made clear in a 1943 case involving Jehovah’s Witnesses. In the pantheon of real First Amendment concerns, this one is off the radar screen.

The practical impact of the ruling is inviting a political backlash for a matter that does not rise to a constitutional violation. We wish the words had not been added back in 1954. But just the way removing a well-lodged foreign body from an organism may sometimes be more damaging than letting it stay put, removing those words would cause more harm than leaving them in. By late afternoon yesterday, virtually every politician in Washington was rallying loudly behind the pledge in its current form.

Most important, the ruling trivializes the critical constitutional issue of separation of church and state. There are important battles to be fought virtually every year over issues of prayer in school and use of government funds to support religious activities. Yesterday’s decision is almost certain to be overturned on appeal. But the sort of rigid overreaction that characterized it will not make genuine defense of the First Amendment any easier.

— CNSNews.com

Wednesday’s ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, holding that the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional, has sparked widespread outrage. Average Americans are upset. Republican politicians are upset. Democrat politicians are upset. And Senator Robert Byrd has urged the Senate to do something to throw “back in the face of this stupid judge.”

The three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit was faced with a lawsuit by an atheist father who was upset with the daily recitation of the Pledge in his daughter’s school. He wasn’t upset about her having to recite it, and thanks to a war-era Supreme Court decision, she didn’t have to. He sued because she watched and listened while her classmates — who had no objections to the Pledge of Allegiance — recited the words “one nation, under God.”

It’s a truly outrageous ruling. Outrageous, but not a complete surprise. After all, this is the sort of thing you get from activist judges.

The Ninth Circuit is justly known as the most judicially activist court in the nation, and it has earned a fair amount of criticism for its actions. Chief Justice William Rehnquist commented a few years ago that “some panels of the Ninth Circuit have a hard time saying no to any litigant with a hard-luck story,” and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg once felt compelled to remind its members that in litigation, “courts characteristically pause to ask: is this conflict really necessary?”

During the Supreme Court’s 1997-1998 term, 28 of the Court’s 80 cases were appeals from the Ninth Circuit. Twenty-seven of those 28 Ninth Circuit decisions were reversed — 17 of them unanimously. The year before, the Court reversed 73 percent of the Ninth Circuit cases it took.

Judge Stephen Reinhardt, one of the two judges who voted to rule the Pledge unconstitutional, makes no secret of his judicial philosophy.

Writing for the majority in Compassion in Dying v. Washington, Reinhardt declared in — reference to Constitutional interpretation — that “we must strive to resist the natural judicial impulse to limit our vision to that which can plainly be observed on the face of the document before us.”

Is it really so shocking that judicial activists will come up with incredible ways to twist what the Constitution actually says? I wonder what this panel would have ruled if the school had required that the Declaration of Independence be read aloud every morning? Is reading that hallowed document, with its references to “nature’s God” and a “Creator” who endows us with unalienable rights, unconstitutional as well?

The lesson that Americans should take from this is that we need judges who are not merely fair and qualified. We need judges who will follow the law, not their own ideas of what the law would be if they had free rein to rewrite it.

We’re facing a vacancy crisis in the judiciary today. Eighty-nine seats are vacant with 49 nominees waiting to fill them. Some of them have been waiting more than a year, and some of them — like Dennis Shedd, whose hearing is scheduled for this afternoon — are under attack because they were appointed by a President who believes that “the role of a judge is to interpret the law, not to legislate from the bench.”

As we hope that this decision is reversed, either by the Ninth Circuit en banc or the Supreme Court, we should also hope that those Senators who place more weight on a nominee’s personal views than his willingness to set them aside will wake up and get their priorities straight.

In the meantime, God bless America.

— The Washington Post

In the many battles over how high the church-state wall should be, there has always been a certain category of official invocations of God that has gone untouched. Legislative prayer has been upheld by the Supreme Court, for example. Court sessions begin by asking that “God save this honorable court.” America’s national motto says “In God We Trust.” And the Pledge of Allegiance, since 1954, has described this country as “One nation under God, indivisible.” At least it did until yesterday — when a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the words “under God” as an establishment of religion in violation of the First Amendment.

If the court were writing a parody, rather than deciding an actual case, it could hardly have produced a more provocative holding than striking down the Pledge of Allegiance while this country is at war. We believe in strict separation between church and state, but the pledge is hardly a particular danger spot crying out for judicial policing. And having a court strike it down can only serve to generate unnecessary political battles and create a fundraising bonanza for the many groups who will rush to its defense. Oh, yes, it can also invite a reversal, and that could mean establishing a precedent that sanctions a broader range of official religious expression than the pledge itself.

All of this might be justified if there were any real question as to the constitutionality of the 1954 law that added God to the pledge. But while the Supreme Court has never specifically considered the question, the justices have left little doubt how they would do so. Even former justice William Brennan — a fierce high-waller — once wrote “I would suggest that such practices as the designation of ‘In God We Trust’ as our national motto, or the references to God contained in the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag can best be understood . . . as a form a ‘ceremonial deism’ protected from Establishment Clause scrutiny chiefly because they have lost through rote repetition any significant religious content.” Other justices have likewise presumed the answer to the question, and no court of appeals should blithely generate a political firestorm — one that was already beginning yesterday — just to find out whether they meant what they said.

As Judge Ferdinand Fernandez pointed out in dissent, the establishment clause tolerates quite a few instances of “ceremonial deism”: Is it okay to sing “God Bless America” or “America the Beautiful” at official events? Is American currency unconstitutional? The answer must be, as Judge Fernandez argues, that in certain expressions “it is obvious that [the] tendency to establish religion in this country or to interfere with the free exercise (or non-exercise) of religion is de minimis.” Amen.

— New York Post

Where’s a San Francisco earthquake when you really need one?

That’s what most Americans must have been thinking yesterday, when a panel of judges on the notoriously — nay, outlandishly — leftist 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, sitting out by the Golden Gate Bridge, declared the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional.

If the ruling stands, schoolchildren in the nine western states of the 9th Circuit won’t be reciting the pledge again.

Naturally, the problem revolves around those two words “under God,” which Congress added to the pledge back in 1954.

And that, says Judge Alfred Goodwin, writing for a 2-1 majority, “impermissibly takes a position with respect to the purely religious question of the existence and identity of God.”

Oh, please.

So. What’s next?

The Declaration of Independence?

After all, the nation’s founding document speaks of the “self-evident” truths that all men “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Judge Goodwin may demand that someone else get the credit for those rights.

Maybe the nation’s currency will be tossed on the scrap heap, too. Because every coin and paper bill carries the phrase “In God we trust.” If ever there was a statement that “takes a position” on the “existence and identity of God,” that’s got to be it.

Since 1789, every president — starting with George Washington — has ended his oath of office with the words, “So help me God.”

Will Judge Goodwin and the 9th circuit declare their terms retroactively illegal?

Wait! How about the Constitution itself: It states flatly that it was adopted “in the year of our Lord, one thousand seven hundred and eighty seven.”


Is the Constitution unconstitutional?

Actually, there’s been a remedy for this nonsense for some time now: Way back in 1943, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that no one could be compelled to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

But that’s not good enough for the 9th Circuit.

Judge Goodwin sees the Inquisition at work: Any student who objects faces an “unacceptable choice between participating and protesting.”

For decades, the loopy left has pressed for the broadest possible interpretation of the Establishment Clause, which prohibits a state-sanctioned religion.

What’s really at issue, though, is the natural inclination of any society to distill its basic beliefs into civic shorthand.

The Pledge of Allegiance is an easily digested version of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution — which in turn proceed from the great documents, ideas and traditions of Western civilization, tracing back to the ancients.

There are people who hate and fear those ideas — who, indeed, hate and fear America — and they have done very well for themselves in American courtrooms in recent decades.

This speaks well of America.

Because, for example, it is impossible to imagine the culture with which America is now at war tolerating a comparable assault upon its iconography. Radical Islam deals swift death to unbelievers.

In that light, we hope this obnoxious court finding is overturned on appeal.

But if it isn’t, America will survive.

Just kidding about the earthquake, by the way.

— Mobile Register

By declaring the Pledge of Allegiance to be unconstitutional in public schools, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has handed President George W. Bush and the Republicans a campaign issue they should learn to recite by heart.

This decision provides the final justification necessary to make the battle over judicial nominees the electoral equivalent of D-Day. The truth is that when Senate Democrats use unfair, unprecedented methods to hinder the president’s choices, as they have done for more than a year now, the kind of judiciary they are maintaining is the type populated by the likes of the Ninth Circuit judges.

The judges wrote that when Congress added the words “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954, it made the pledge untenable for use in public schools. They wrote that even if children’s participation in reciting the Pledge is voluntary, the children still are faced with an “unacceptable choice between participating and protesting.” An atheist, they explained, could see the Pledge as a means to “enforce a ‘religious orthodoxy’ of monotheism.”

Yet the U.S. Supreme Court has long held that it is in no way unconstitutional for Congress (much less for other government-supported bodies) to merely provide an “acknowledgment of our religious heritage.” In fact, in 1992 the high court used the words “ceremonial deism” to describe the types of benign, voluntary references to God that are constitutionally allowable.

For instance, it is beyond dispute that the singing of “God Bless America” is permissible, as is the official national motto (printed on coins) of “In God we trust,” as is the use of an official, taxpayer-supported chaplain to open each day’s activity in Congress.

Even the Supreme Court itself begins its sessions with the phrase “God save the United States and this honorable court.” And the history books are full of quotations from key American founders such as George Washington and James Madison about the importance of divine providence.

For all those reasons, there is little chance that the Supreme Court will let the Ninth Circuit’s decision stand, even in the nine Western states over which that court has jurisdiction.

The broader impact of the ruling, if the Bush White House is smart, should be to galvanize the public to pay close heed to the makeup of the federal courts. The Senate Democrats under Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy have so far refused even to provide hearings for a record number of Bush judicial nominees.

The highest profile case is that of Miguel Estrada, a former Justice Department official with a sterling resumé. Nominated way back on May 9 of 2001, Mr. Estrada is now subject to the unheard-of demand from Sen. Leahy that he turn over the internal legal recommendations that Mr. Estrada wrote while working in the U.S. Solicitor General’s office.

The demand is so out of line that all seven living former solicitors general, including four Democrats, have written to Sen. Leahy in protest.

Such Leahy shenanigans, which pledge allegiance to nothing other than raw power-politics, should come under heightened scrutiny now that the courts have threatened the people’s Pledge.

— Colorado Springs Gazette

You expect the occasional fringe group or disaffected crank to sue over a reference to a supreme being, maybe even to the whole Ten Commandments, etched long ago into the ivy-obscured arch of a doorway on an aging public edifice and since forgotten by ensuing generations.

What you don’t expect is a court -a federal appeals court, no less — to buy into such nonsense. Alas, one did this week. In a 2-1 decision, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Wednesday the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance amounts to a government endorsement of religion in violation of the Constitution’s Establishment Clause.

“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,’ because none of these professions can be neutral with respect to religion,” Judge Alfred T. Goodwin wrote for the three-judge panel.

The decision means schoolchildren no longer will be permitted to recite the pledge in the nine Western states (Colorado’s not among them) covered by the court — if, that is, the decision is allowed to stand.

That’s a big if. Observers already are predicting the ruling won’t last long. As noted in one news account Wednesday, the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit is the nation’s most overturned appellate court — partly because it is the largest, but also because it tends to make liberal, activist opinions, and because the cases it hears — on a range of issues from environmental laws to property rights to civil rights — tend to challenge the status quo. This particular ruling challenges broad-based social convention, too.

“Our Founding Fathers must be spinning in their graves. This is the worst kind of political correctness run amok,” said U.S. Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo. “What’s next? Will the courts now strip ‘so help me God’ from the pledge taken from new presidents?”

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said, “The president’s reaction was that this ruling is ridiculous. The Supreme Court itself begins each of its sessions with the phrase ‘God save the United States and this honorable court.'” Echoing such incredulity was Democratic Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who called the ruling, “just nuts.”

OK, so the ruling is silly. As no less a constitutional scholar than Harvard’s Laurence Tribe pointed out, the U.S. Supreme Court probably will reverse the decision — if the 9th Circuit doesn’t reverse itself first.

Pending that, though, it’s a great sideshow. Talk radio’s switchboards are lighting up already.

— San Francisco Chronicle

Common sense was trumped by to doctrinaire thinking in a court ruling barring the Pledge of Allegiance from including the phrase “under God.”

A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco wants the 31-word pledge trimmed of the two-word mention of God, which was added to the pledge by Congress in 1954.

Because the deity is mentioned, even generically, the pledge crosses the line separating church and state, the appellate court declared.

“None of these professions can be neutral with respect to religion,” wrote Judge Alfred Goodwin, who saw no distinction, for example, between the phrase “one nation under God” and “one nation under Jesus” or “one nation under Vishnu.”

We disagree. This country’s founders were wise to build a wall between church and state. No set of religious beliefs should have sway over others in a democracy built on the values of pluralism.

But the appellate court exceeds the bounds of rationality. Its proscription of the pledge because of two words — cast in an amorphous way — makes a mockery of the very serious issue of encroachment of religion on public policy in this nation. Adherents of any faith can project their own beliefs onto the phrase “one nation under God.” And the Supreme Court has made it clear that atheists cannot be compelled to recite those words.

In the past, courts have sensibly barred prayers at school graduations and sports events. The Ten Commandments likewise were forbidden from classroom walls. These were examples of distinct religious beliefs being sanctioned by government — and the courts justifiably tossed them out.

With its ruling, the appellate court has declared open season on a wide range of more vague and benign mentions of God in public life. Does this country really want to reach the point where every mention of religion needs to be eliminated in the name of constitutional purity?

“In God We Trust” is printed on currency and coins. Does this amount to a religious intrusion?

The list goes on. Elected leaders from the president on down to a town council member swear on a Bible or with a raised hand to uphold their office “so help me God.” Witnesses in court promise to tell the truth under a similar oath.

Constitutional rights, while sacred, are not absolute. They provide room for reason. The First Amendment does not offer a right to shout “”fire!” in a crowded theater. And the separation of church and state should not preclude Americans from reciting the pledge of allegiance.

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