- The Washington Times - Monday, April 21, 2003

One of the last "respectable" bigotries in some quarters is anti-Catholicism. The nation's leading exposer of this poisonous prejudice, which has festered throughout our history, is Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Civil and Religious Rights. I much admire him, as he knows, but disagree with his ferocious reaction to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision barring the Pledge of Allegiance from public school classrooms because it includes the phrase, "under God."
Mr. Donohue calls for the impeachment of the judges who made the ruling and, if the Supreme Court does not overrule that decision, he insists that teachers in the nine western states affected by the decision should commit civil disobedience in their classrooms by calling "the cops and local TV reporters" and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in their presence.
He believes that this act would be especially appropriate at a time when our troops "are prepared to die for the liberties symbolized by the pledge."
I am not aware that any member of our forces, engaged in what is clearly a just war, had to pass a religious test to risk his or her life. There are also atheists under fire. Not many, perhaps, but some.
Mr. Donohue is far from alone in his fury at the Ninth Circuit judges. Despite the fact that the chief target, Judge Alfred Goodwin, stated plainly in his decision that " 'under God' is a declaration of religious belief" and thereby violates the First Amendment's Establishment Clause, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay has cast a thunderbolt at the entire federal judiciary. If the Supreme Court does not expunge the decision, he threatens legislation to limit the jurisdiction of all federal courts.
And, by a thumping vote of 22-2, the House Judiciary Committee urged the Bush administration on March 12 to indeed appeal the Ninth Circuit's decision to the Supreme Court. In a bipartisan spirit of indignation, presidential aspirant Sen. Joseph Lieberman says that "if this decision is not overturned, we will amend the Constitution."
James Madison, the principal architect of the First Amendment to the Constitution, and a major player at the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, insisted in a July 10, 1822 letter to Edward Livingston that "we are teaching the world … that religion flourishes in greater purity, without than with the aid of government."
Accordingly, I have reminded Mr. Donohue that Article VI of the Constitution states unequivocally that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." The freedom of conscience guaranteed to all Americans means that in this land, there is freedom for and freedom from religion.
Historian Clinton Rossiter, whose books on early American history won him a number of notable prizes, wrote in "The First American Revolution" of the "multiplicity of religions and the great unchurched" in the American colonies. These factors, he said "were the fundamental reasons … for the growth of an awareness that any other course but toleration, and in time separation (of church and state), would be inexpedient, if not impossible to follow. Most [American] colonials had a majority attitude toward relations of church and state, and the core of this attitude could have been no other than the permission of dissenting consciences."
Meanwhile, in further developments related to the notorious three-judge decision in the Ninth Circuit: On March 1, the 24-judge Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals with nine dissenters let stand the ban on the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in the public schools of the circuit with "under God" included. But, the full bench omitted (from the original ruling), the previous blocking of the 1954 law passed by Congress that officially added "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance. Only public schools are now involved in the prohibition.
Judge Goodwin, who has not retreated at all from his constitutional decision, has stayed the enforcement of the ban in public school classrooms pending a decision by the Supreme Court on whether it will take the case.
It is true that even if the ban is lifted by the high court, individual students can refuse to recite the pledge that contains "under God." They will then be sent, in some schools, to the principal's office, or in any case, be regarded as pariahs by many of their fellow students. I have reported on cases where this has happened. In defense of these dissenting students, I cite a point made by Judge Goodwin, indicating that no American should be shunned for exercising his or her constitutional right of conscience.
And Mr. Donohue is fully entitled by the First Amendment to issue his broadsides, in conscience, demanding the impeachment of those judges on the Ninth Circuit.


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