- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 8, 2003

RICHMOND A federal judge has upheld Virginia laws calling on public schools to lead children in a daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance and compelling them to display the national motto, "In God We Trust."
Without fanfare, U.S. District Judge James C. Cacheris of Alexandria last month dismissed a lawsuit challenging the laws as unconstitutional infringements on free speech and religious freedoms.
"The statute mandating recitation of the pledge is secular because it aims to foster democracy, which is both necessary to the survival of the concept and entirely independent of religion," Judge Cacheris wrote in a Feb. 21 opinion.
It is clear in the 2001 state law that no student is forced to accept the beliefs the pledge espouses, he wrote.
Edward R. Myers of Loudoun County filed the lawsuit, challenging the display of posters distributed to schools statewide by the Virginia-based Family Policy Network (FPN), a nonprofit Christian advocacy group. The posters feature "In God We Trust" emblazoned in gold with the U.S. flag as a backdrop and, in a smaller subscript, "the National Motto, enacted by Congress in 1956."
Last year, Mr. Myers threatened to sue any school that used the FPN's posters on grounds that its use of the posters is an endorsement of the organization's religious views.
Judge Cacheris rejected the argument, saying that just because a religious group designed the poster does not necessarily mean the poster is religious by nature.
"Indeed, aside from the inclusion of the word 'God' as a portion of the national motto, the posters are wholly devoid of any religious reference or symbol," the ruling states.
The ruling came about a week before a federal appeals court in San Francisco affirmed its earlier ruling that prohibits teacher-led recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools because it contains the phrase "one nation under God."
That ruling, by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, is not binding in Virginia, but it sets up a definitive Supreme Court decision.
"While the rest of the country continues to be amazed at the wrong-headed decision of the 9th Circuit, we are pleased with this ruling of a Virginia federal court," said Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore, whose office defended the state law.

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