- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 6, 2003

Congress could remove federal courts' jurisdiction to rule on the Pledge of Allegiance if the Supreme Court doesn't overturn an appeals court decision that bars children from reciting the Pledge in school, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said yesterday.
"Congress for so long has been lax in standing up for the Constitution," the Texas Republican told reporters during a briefing yesterday. "There are ways to express ourselves for instance, we could limit the jurisdiction of the judicial branch.
"Article III, Section 2 [of the Constitution] allows us to do that. I think that would be a very good idea to send a message to the judiciary they ought to keep their hands off the Pledge of Allegiance," he said.
A two-judge majority of a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in June that public school classes cannot recite the Pledge because the phrase "under God" is an endorsement of religion. Late last week, the full appeals court voted not to overturn the ruling.
The court has since stayed the decision for 90 days to give California's Elk Grove Unified School District time to appeal to the Supreme Court.
Mr. DeLay said that stay headed off immediate action in the House, but Congress is still considering its options and "this will not deter us from moving forward in trying to deal with the situation, and Congress ought to have something to say about this."
The school district has said it will appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.
Rep. Steve Chabot, Ohio Republican and chairman of the Constitution subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee, said he thinks the Supreme Court will overturn the appeals court's decision and make congressional action unnecessary.
But he said if that doesn't happen, the two options open to Congress are a statutory change to limit jurisdiction, as Mr. DeLay laid out, or amend the Constitution to protect the Pledge.
"I hope that's not necessary to amend the Constitution," he said. "I hope the Supreme Court takes this up and overturns this absurd decision."
Still, he said if it does come to that, "I think support will be overwhelming and I think it will be bipartisan."
The Supreme Court last ruled on the Pledge in 1943, before the words "under God" were added in 1954.
The current case arose when Michael Newdow, an atheist living in Sacramento, Calif., sued the Elk Grove schools, arguing his daughter shouldn't have to listen to her class recite the Pledge.
The 9th Circuit panel agreed with him. The court covers Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, Montana, Oregon and Washington. It is considered by most court-watchers to be the most liberal appeals court in the nation.
On Tuesday, the Senate voted 94-0 to support the wording of the Pledge and instructed the Senate's lawyers either to intervene in the case or file an amicus brief to defend the Pledge.
Last summer, the House voted 416-3, with 11 others only voting "present," to criticize the initial 9th Circuit ruling. The House also held hearings to discuss splitting the circuit apart, and some members made it clear that would in part be punishment for rulings like the Pledge.
For now, Mr. DeLay said the House will continue to say the Pledge regardless of the court ruling, and he encouraged anyone else who wants to say the Pledge to do so.

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