Magazine article The Christian Century

Taking on the Pledge: There Are Religious Grounds for Siding with the Ninth Circuit Court

Magazine article The Christian Century

Taking on the Pledge: There Are Religious Grounds for Siding with the Ninth Circuit Court

Article excerpt

A MASSIVE PUBLIC OUTCRY greeted the ruling last month by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals declaring that the words "under God" in public school recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance violate the "no establishment of religion, clause of the First Amendment. Congress rushed to condemn the decision. President Bush termed it ridiculous and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle called it "just nuts." Some columnists questioned the judges' sanity.

But the ruling makes sense. Imagine heating a public school teacher leading students in pledging devotion to a nation "under Vishnu." It would be obvious in such a case that the government was endorsing and advancing a particular religion--a clear violation of the Constitution. This was Circuit Judge Alfred Goodwin's point: "A profession that we are a nation `under God' is identical, for Establishment Clause purposes, to a profession that we are a nation `under Jesus,' a nation `under Vishnu,' a nation `under Zeus' or a nation `under no god,' because none of these professions can be neutral with respect to religion."

The only way "under God" can be construed as constitutional is by arguing that the words do not really carry the kind of theological weight Goodwin ascribes to them. …

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