- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The House yesterday voted to protect the “under God” phrase of the Pledge of Allegiance from judges who might declare it unconstitutional, the measure being another element of the Republican-pushed values agenda in the lead-up to the fall elections.

Supporters said the Pledge Protection Act, which passed on a 260-167 vote, was necessary because of court decisions such as a 2002 ruling in California from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The court ruled it an unconstitutional “endorsement of religion” to require public-school students to recite the Pledge in its current form. In 1954, Congress added the words “under God” to demonstrate opposition to atheistic communism.

The Pledge Protection Act was backed by 221 Republicans and 39 Democrats, with eight Republicans, 158 Democrats and the chamber’s only independent opposed.

“Judges should not be able to rewrite the Pledge,” said Majority Whip Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican.

The measure denies federal courts the jurisdiction to rule on interpretation of the Pledge and forbids the Supreme Court from ruling on Pledge appeals. State courts would be free to decide the matter as a state issue.

“We must step in,” said Rep. Todd Akin, the Missouri Republican who sponsored the bill. He called it Congress’ responsibility to “stand up to the court when they are misusing the Constitution.”

Others trumpeted the bill, identical to one passed in September 2004, as a key vote for “American values.”

“By preserving this phrase in our country’s Pledge, we are protecting and revering the faith on which our country was founded,” said House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican.

Opponents dubbed the measure a “court-stripping” bill that did little more than inspire conservatives who otherwise might be unmotivated to vote in November.

“Why isn’t Congress addressing the concerns of America’s great middle class?” asked House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.

Mrs. Pelosi accused Republicans of using the “politics of divide and distract” and said the Pledge is not at risk.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, New York Democrat, said lawmakers are “playing with fire” and harming the First Amendment. Rep. Robert C. Scott, Virginia Democrat, said the bill shows a “flagrant disregard” for constitutional principles.

The Democrats used the debate to highlight issues on which they say Congress has failed to act this year, such as raising the federal minimum wage, curbing handgun violence, helping Hurricane Katrina victims and lowering gas prices.

“I could go on and on,” said Rep. Alcee L. Hastings, Florida Democrat. “Really, I’m embarrassed.”

Democrats attempted and failed to attach an increase of the federal minimum wage to the Pledge bill.

A similar measure sponsored by Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, is pending in the Senate Judiciary Committee. No hearing has been scheduled, so it is not clear whether the bill will receive a vote before the Nov. 7 elections.

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