The Pledge of Allegiance and American Values
Davis, Derek H., Journal of Church and State
The Pledge of Allegiance, recited daily by most schoolchildren across America, has become a topic of considerable controversy since a challenge to the phrase "under God," which was added to the pledge in 1954, was recently held by a California federal appeals court to be a violation of the Establishment Clause. Many American citizens, religious leaders, and legislators were immediately outraged by the decision. The day after the decision, the U.S. Senate voted unanimously to reaffirm the current wording of the Pledge of Allegiance. The next day, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a similar resolution by a vote of 416 to 3, affirming its belief that the ruling is inconsistent with the U.S. Supreme Court's First Amendment jurisprudence. Even President George W. Bush weighed in on the controversy, calling the ruling ridiculous and inconsistent with the traditions and history of America. Bush stated that his administration would formally ask the U.S. Supreme Court to overrule the California decision. And in the days following the decision, surveys of Americans, according to the Washington Post, showed that 87 percent support retaining the phrase "under God" in the pledge.
In light of the considerable interest generated by these developments, it is important to examine the facts of the case that created this firestorm of controversy, the history of the pledge and how it achieved its place of prominence in Americans' estimation, and the pledge's place in defining the religious aspects of the American public philosophy.
Every morning the second graders in the Elk Grove Unified School District near Sacramento, California rise to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Michael Newdow, a Sacramento atheist, objected to the practice because the pledge includes the phrase, "One Nation under God," and he did not want his daughter exposed to, in his words, a "religious idea that certain people do not agree with."
Newdow filed a lawsuit in 2001 that was dismissed at the federal district court level. But in June 2002, a three-judge panel for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Newdow, holding, in a 2-1 vote, that "although the students cannot be forced to participate in recitation of the pledge, the school district is nonetheless conveying a message of state endorsement of a religious belief when it requires public school teachers to recite, and lead the recitation of, the current form of the pledge." Students in public schools in the states covered by the 9th Circuit (Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington), pending the case's final outcome, are still reciting the pledge at the beginning of each day.
Legal scholars claimed that it was very likely that the court's opinion would be overturned upon reconsideration by a full panel of the 9th Circuit (11 of its 24 justices), and if not then, upon reaching the U.S. Supreme Court. In the summer of 2003, a full panel of judges on the 9th Circuit Court affirmed the court's earlier decision. "We may not-we must not-allow public sentiment or outcry to guide our decisions," judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote in the 46-page opinion. "It is particularly important that we understand the nature of our obligations and the strength of our constitutional principles in times of national crisis. It is then that our freedoms and our liberties are in the greatest peril." The U.S. Supreme Court has already agreed to hear an appeal of the case, no doubt because of the importance of the case to America's most sacred traditions.
The 9th Circuit's decision is the first time that a U.S. court has ruled any part of the pledge unconstitutional. The ruling, if affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court, would mean that schoolchildren nationwide would no longer be permitted to recite the pledge in its present form. The 9th Circuit, however, is certain that its ruling is required by the Constitution. In its initial written …
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Publication information: Article title: The Pledge of Allegiance and American Values. Contributors: Davis, Derek H. - Author. Journal title: Journal of Church and State. Volume: 45. Issue: 4 Publication date: Autumn 2003. Page number: 657+. © 1999 J.M. Dawson Studies in Church and State. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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