- The Washington Times - Monday, July 8, 2002

Despite the outraged claims that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has banned the Pledge of Allegiance in its decision that the inclusion of "one nation under God" violates the First Amendment's separation of church and state, the pledge is still alive if spoken without that clause in an official governmental setting.
Furthermore, the decision applies only to the nine states within the scope of the Ninth Circuit; and even there, a student can keep God in the pledge just not as part of an officially mandated school exercise.
Also relevant to the furor this decision has caused is why "one nation under God" was added to the pledge in 1954 by Congress, following its original formulation in 1892 by Baptist minister Francis Bellamy who, according to historian John Baer, wanted the ceremony to be part of an international peace pledge.
When President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the "under God" legislation intended by Congress to differentiate this country from atheistic communist nations he said, "Millions of our schoolchildren will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and rural schoolhouse, the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty."
But that was a clear advancement of religion by the government in public schools prohibited by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Fierce opponents of the current Ninth Circuit decision keep citing the references to God in the Declaration of Independence, but that document does not have any force of law. Nor do the invocations of God before sessions of the Supreme Court and Congress. Our legal foundation is in the Constitution, which carefully omits any mention of God, except in the phrase "in the year of our Lord." Furthermore, the Constitution states explicitly, "No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."
So, when President Bush, in denouncing the Ninth Circuit decision, says: "We receive our rights from God," is he saying American agnostics and atheists have no firmly based constitutional rights? And, since this country harbors many different religious faiths and definitions of the Almighty, whose God is the president referring to?
Also, when the president and the nearly unanimous Congress declare that the decision goes against "American traditions and history," they ignore a Supreme Court decision on the Pledge of Allegiance that defines the very essence of Americanism.
In 1943, as we fought against Adolf Hitler, the very incarnation of evil, the Supreme Court was faced with a decision by the West Virginia Board of Education to expel children of Jehovah's Witnesses and to prosecute their parents for causing juvenile delinquency because those children refused to salute the flag and stand for the Pledge of Allegiance on religious grounds.
Speaking for a majority of the Supreme Court, Justice Robert Jackson who later became chief American prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials ruled that: "If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox politics, nationalism, religion, or any other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein," (emphasis added).
It is in that secular American tradition of independence of conscience and belief that the Ninth Circuit's Alfred Goodwin, a Nixon Republican appointee, has ruled that including "one nation under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools conveys the impermissible message of endorsement of religion. This is all the more so, he adds, "given the age and impressionability of schoolchildren, particularly within the confined environment of the classroom."
In visiting and writing about schools nationwide for many years, I have been greatly disturbed by how superficially and fragmentarily the history and contents of the Constitution are taught in far too many classrooms.
Now, seeing the majority of Congress and a good many law professors and bellicose television commentators acting as if the Ninth Circuit judges responsible for this decision are subversives, I am again aware of how much remedial education in the Bill of Rights, as well as in the rest of the Constitution, is sorely needed among many American adults.
Across the land, I hear echoes of Sen. Joseph Lieberman's mantra as he campaigned for the vice presidency: "We do not have freedom from religion." However, from the ratification of the Constitution to this day, we Americans have both freedom for religion and freedom from government-imposed religion. Mr. Lieberman pledges to amend the Constitution if the Supreme Court affirms the Ninth Circuit's decision. That, indeed, would violate the core of our freedom of thought under the Constitution as it stands.
Some would call that un-American.



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