- The Washington Times - Friday, June 28, 2002

There is quite a difference between a general reference to God and an official state-supported religion, but it is a distinction apparently lost upon the judicial miscreants of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. In a 2-1 decision Wednesday, the court somehow managed to rule that use of the pro forma phrase "one nation, under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance is tantamount to the establishment of an official state-sponsored religion, and, therefore, a violation of the First Amendment. The case was brought by an atheist, who objected to his daughter hearing the pledge being recited in her second-grade class. Judge Alfred T. Goodwin found that "A profession that we are a nation 'under God' is identical … to a profession that we are 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." Hogwash.
This case had very little to do with one child listening to others recite the pledge. Nothing in the Constitution requires the extirpation of all religious references, regardless of how bland or nondenominational they may be. And, in 1943, the Supreme Court ruled that no one could be forced to pledge allegiance. Only the most virulent hatred of all spiritual belief could equate innocuous pieties such as "under God" or "In God We Trust" with a state religion, or anything remotely approximating one. American money is engraved with the phrase "In God We Trust." Does that mean non-believers shouldn't have to see or touch such things? Should children be prohibited from singing "God Bless America" or "America the Beautiful" in school? How many people take offense at the fact that every American president takes the oath of office with one hand on a Bible? Clearly the court can't permit the references to the Almighty in the Declaration of Independence to stand. How can it allow the U.S. Congress to begin every session, as it does, with a prayer? How can the Supreme Court itself be permitted to begin each session, as it does, with the blessing, "God save the United States and this honorable court?"
The kind of irrationality that led to Wednesday's decision is precisely the kind of irrationality that Mr. Bush, who rightly called the decision "ridiculous," is attempting to end by appointing judges who are well qualified even by the standards of the oozingly liberal American Bar Association but who are not judicial activists. Even notoriously liberal Supreme Court Justice William Brennan once wrote 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 of 'ceremonial deism' protected from Establishment Clause scrutiny chiefly because they have lost through rote repetition any significant religious content."
While the decision can easily be interpreted as well meaning, the fact is that it is not. Sure, the Founding Fathers believed in God, and the government they created is based on moral principles derived from that belief. But the bipartisan reaction on Capitol Hill and overwhelming non-religious outcries from the general public prove that the court will be burning the midnight oil on this one, because it seems some people are trying to remake this great nation, "under God," into an America in their own image.
As Judge Ferdinand Fernandez wrote in his spirited dissent on Wednesday, there is only a "minuscule" risk that the use of "God" or "In God We Trust" would "bring about a theocracy or suppress someone's beliefs." He added, "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."
How sad that the other two learned heads on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals could not grasp that straightforward reasoning.



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