- The Washington Times - Friday, June 28, 2002

In the face of nationwide, near-unanimous outrage, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday postponed enforcement of its ruling that public school students may not recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
The ruling on Wednesday by a three-judge panel in San Francisco said having children recite the Pledge in public schools violates the Constitution because the Pledge refers to "one nation under God."
But Judge Alfred T. Goodwin, who wrote the majority opinion in the 2-1 ruling, signed an order yesterday staying enforcement until the entire court decides whether to hear an appeal that the Justice Department promised yesterday.
The Senate responded to the court ruling by passing a bill 99-0 reaffirming the 1954 law that added the words "under God" to the Pledge, and the House overwhelmingly passed a resolution condemning the court's majority opinion on a 416-3 vote, with 11 members voting "present."
President Bush also weighed in personally, taking time from a news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Canada to decry the Pledge ruling.
"I think that the Almighty is an important obviously an important part of my life, but a very important part of the life of our country. And that's why the ruling of the courts was out of step with the traditions and history of America," Mr. Bush said.
Attorney General John Ashcroft announced that the Justice Department will formally ask for a full hearing on the pledge ruling by all 11 judges of the court.
"The Justice Department will defend the ability of our nation's children to pledge allegiance to the American flag, by requesting a rehearing en banc by the full Ninth Circuit," Mr. Ashcroft said in a statement.
By staying his ruling, Judge Goodwin prevents it from affecting the territory in the circuit's purview: Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and Guam.
But that didn't stop the outrage that boiled across the nation, where the ruling was the talk at office coolers, on radio shows and in the halls of Congress the more so because the nation has troops in the field in Afghanistan and because Independence Day comes next week.
"The American people know this is wrong," said Richard J. Santos, national commander of the American Legion. "They will not be swayed by the twisted logic of judges who have taken prayer out of schools and ruled that burning our nation's flag is speech."
The Veterans of Foreign Wars also issued a stinging indictment of the court. Groups and public figures from across the political spectrum denounced the ruling, from the Christian Coalition calling it "one of the most outrageous assaults on the First Amendment" to the Anti-Defamation League saying it "goes against the culture and traditions of this country, which was founded on principles respectful of faith."
The decision wasn't even popular in San Francisco. Both city newspapers, the Chronicle and the Examiner, attacked the decision yesterday. In a poll on the Chronicle's Web page, 53 percent of the respondents favored keeping the Pledge as it is.
While an editorial in the conservative Wall Street Journal tartly called the ruling "this silliness," the liberal editorial pages of the New York Times and The Washington Post also joined the criticism. The Times called the decision a "rigid overreaction" that "trivializes the critical constitutional issue of separation of church and state."
The unpopularity of the decision even resulted in threatening phone calls to the home of the atheist whose lawsuit prompted the decision. Dr. Michael Newdow yesterday played a tape of the calls to reporters at his Sacramento, Calif., home.
Some groups and lawmakers said the ruling shows the need for conservative judges to be appointed to the courts, which Mr. Bush promised yesterday to do.
Judge Goodwin was nominated by President Nixon. Judge Stephen Reinhardt, who joined Judge Goodwin in the ruling, was nominated by President Carter. Judge Ferdinand F. Fernandez, who dissented, was picked by the first President Bush.
Judge Goodwin's name was an especially dirty word in Congress, where Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, on Wednesday said he would remember the judge in case his name ever came before the Senate again.
Yesterday morning members of both the House and Senate packed the chambers to recite the Pledge, turning a usually pro forma, sparsely attended ritual into a celebration of the Pledge.
In the House, representatives broke into a two-minute standing ovation after the pledge, then spontaneously sang a verse from "God Bless America." One member of Congress held yesterday's edition of The Washington Times on the House floor and flashed a thumbs-down at the headline, which read, "Pledge of Allegiance ruled unconstitutional."
Sen. Gordon H. Smith, Oregon Republican, whose state falls under the jurisdiction of the 9th Circuit, said he took special pride in saying the Pledge as part of a public body.
"It was a privilege to engage in an act of civil disobedience," he said.
In the afternoon, the Senate voted on a bill sponsored by Sen. Tim Hutchinson, Arkansas Republican, to reaffirm the words "under God" as part of the Pledge. Congress first added those words to the Pledge in 1954. The bill also affirms the nation's motto, "In God we trust."
Sen. Jesse Helms, North Carolina Republican, was absent from the vote for health reasons.
In the House, yesterday's vote on a resolution condemning the ruling was slightly more contentious.
"The only thing worse than the decision is the spectacle of members of the United States House of Representatives putting aside discussion of prescription drugs for Medicare to take up this resolution," said Rep. Robert C. Scott, Virginia Democrat, who led opposition to the bill, joined by Reps. Mike Honda and Pete Stark, both of California.
Voting "present" were Democratic Reps. Gary L. Ackerman, Nydia M. Velazquez and Jerrold Nadler of New York, Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, Michael E. Capuano and Barney Frank of Massachusetts, Luis V. Gutierrez of Illinois, Alcee L. Hastings of Florida, Jim McDermott of Washington, James L. Oberstar of Minnesota and Melvin Watt of North Carolina.
All 220 Republicans who voted supported the resolution, as did 194 Democrats and both of the chamber's independents.
"It's an embarrassment, and we as a co-equal branch of government ought to rise up and say, 'No, no, it's wrong,'" said Rep. Henry J. Hyde, Illinois Republican.
Some House members and aides are floating other ideas for further action, up to a constitutional amendment to overturn the decision. But many lawmakers said they think an amendment unnecessary, as they don't expect the decision to stand.
Jerry Seper contributed to this report.



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