- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Two members of the U.S. House reintroduced a bill yesterday to prevent federal courts from outlawing recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, but said their focus will be on trying to make the Senate pass the bill.

The House passed two bills last year to prevent the courts from hearing challenges to key social issues — the Pledge and the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which set the federal definition of marriage — but neither of the measures received a vote in the Senate.

“We know we’ve already gotten things pretty well along in the House. We know where we are votewise there, and we obviously need to work the Senate,” said Rep. Todd Akin, Missouri Republican and chief sponsor of this year’s Pledge bill.

The bill would prevent any federal-level court, from the district level to the Supreme Court, from hearing a challenge to reciting the Pledge. The bill would leave decisions to the state courts.

“We’re simply saying to the federal judiciary, we’re limiting their jurisdiction, saying that you don’t have authority to hear any claim that the recitation of the Pledge is in violation of the First Amendment,” Mr. Akin said.

He said Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, will spearhead this year’s effort. Mr. Kyl said yesterday that his focus has been elsewhere and that he didn’t know what the prospects were for a Senate bill.

In 2003, Republican Sens. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah and Jim Talent of Missouri introduced a bill that would have removed lower federal courts’ jurisdiction, but would not have affected the Supreme Court’s ability to hear such cases.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2002 that recitation of the Pledge in public schools violated the Constitution’s First Amendment. The Supreme Court struck the case down without ruling on the Pledge issue, finding instead that the parent who sued had no standing.

But lawmakers want to head off future rulings, and last year, the House passed a version of the bill, 247-173.

House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said that the proposal is part of a larger abuse of power by Republicans, and that he hopes the Senate will block action again. “This is a continuing of the ends justifies the means,” he said.

Mr. Hoyer said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, in a recent speech, talked about ensuring a proper balance with the courts. “Apparently, the proper balance is Congress telling the courts what to do,” Mr. Hoyer said.

Opponents also have argued that Congress is overstepping its bounds by restricting courts’ jurisdiction, and said it is a novel approach at best.

But another sponsor of the bill, Rep. Mike McIntyre, North Carolina Democrat, said the Constitution is clear on that issue. “It’s very much permitted, and in fact I’d say it’s been an overlooked approach in the past,” he said. “So many people don’t realize it’s there, but it goes right back to the way the Constitution itself was written.”

“The appellate court should not, and will not under this law, get away with removing Him from our most sacred vow, the Pledge of Allegiance,” he said.

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