- The Washington Times - Monday, August 19, 2002

The American Legion, the nation's largest veterans organization, has joined a growing list of agencies and groups that have filed motions with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, seeking to overturn its decision that the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional.
The 2.8 million member American Legion filed an amicus curiae friend of the court brief in the appeals court Friday, joining the U.S. Justice Department, 50 state and territorial attorneys general, and 17 Republican members of Congress, who have all gone to court to try to get the June 26 ruling by a three-judge panel struck down.
"If the 9th Circuit's ruling is allowed to stand, millions of American schoolchildren will be denied the right to recite the pledge," said Richard J. "Ric" Santos, national commander of the Indianapolis-based legion.
"The denial will exist simply because the phrase 'One nation under God' offends one atheist and two" of the three judges, Mr. Santos added. He noted that the American Legion was instrumental in adding the "under God" language to the pledge in the 1950s.
The atheist in question is Michael Newdow, whose daughter is a student at an elementary school in the Elk Grove Unified School District near Sacramento, Calif.
Although children cannot be made to say the pledge in class, Mr. Newdow said his daughter was injured by being forced to listen to other children recite it. The child's mother, who is the custodial parent and whom Mr. Newdow never married, has denied their daughter was harmed in any way.
The 9th Circuit Court's ruling immediately triggered national outrage. The Senate promptly passed a resolution condemning the ruling.
Because of the furor that ensued, the judge who wrote the opinion stayed it the next day, pending more review.
On Tuesday, the American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative public interest law firm, filed a brief with the 9th Circuit, asking for a rehearing of its ruling against the Pledge of Allegiance.
The center filed its brief on behalf of itself and 17 Republicans in the House of Representatives. "The decision that the phrase 'One nation under God' is unconstitutional is not only flawed in a legal sense, but ignores Supreme Court precedent protecting this kind of language," Jay Sekulow, chief counsel with the Virginia-based center, said in a statement.
"It is crucial that a larger panel of the 9th Circuit rehear this case and correct the faulty conclusions reached by the three-judge panel," Mr. Sekulow added.
The brief, which is posted on the center Web site at www.aclj.org, contends that the phrase, "One nation under God," does not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. What it does, the brief says, is to merely "echo the sentiments found in the Declaration of Independence" and to recognize the "undeniable truth that America's freedoms come from God." The brief also cites numerous U.S. Supreme Court cases in defense of its position.
Mr. Santos said the American Legion does not believe that the pledge's "under God" reference amounts to religious promotion. "We don't believe this has anything to do with government and religion. It's part of our American heritage," he said in an interview.
In court documents filed Aug. 9, the Justice Department made a similar argument. It held that the U.S. Supreme Court had determined that the words "under God" in the pledge are among "many ceremonial references to our religious heritage and do not establish a religious faith."


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