Pledge of Allegiance Ruled Unconstitutional
Wednesday, June 26, 2002
SAN FRANCISCO — The Pledge of Allegiance is an unconstitutional endorsement of religion and cannot be recited in public schools, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.
In its ruling, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a 1954 act of Congress that inserted the phrase "under God" after the phrase "one nation" in the pledge.
"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 will not take effect for several months, because the appeals court gives parties time to appeal its decisions. The government now can ask the court to reconsider its decision, or appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse it.
The appeals court, in the nation's first ruling of its kind, said that when President Eisenhower signed the 1954 legislation, he wrote that "millions of our school children will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and rural schoolhouse, the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty."
The court noted that the U.S. Supreme Court has said students cannot hold religious invocations at graduations and cannot be compelled to recite the pledge. But the appeals panel said that classroom pledges, regardless of whether a student participates, are unconstitutional and an "unacceptable choice between participating and protesting."
"Although students cannot be forced to participate in recitation of the pledge, the school district is nonetheless conveying a message of state endorsement of a religious belief when it requires public school teachers to recite, and lead the recitation of, the current form of the pledge," the court said.
The case was brought by Michael A. Newdow, a Sacramento atheist who objected because his second-grade daughter was required to recite the pledge at the Elk Grove Unified School District.
The ruling says the government had argued that the religious content of the phrase "one nation under God" is minimal.
But the appelate court says it may reasonably appear to an atheist or a believer in certain non-Judeo-Christian religions or philosophies to be an attempt to impose monotheism on students.
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