Chronicle Staff Writer
Friday, March 12, 2010
"To be a real American, you believe in God, and the judiciary unfortunately sometimes can't be trusted to uphold our constitutional rights when you're a disenfranchised minority." -- Michael Newdow, a Sacramento atheist who filed suit, on the messages sent by the ruling.
Photo: Rich Pedroncelli, File / AP
(03-11) 17:32 PST SAN FRANCISCO -- The federal court that touched off a furor in 2002 by declaring the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance to be an unconstitutional endorsement of religion took another look at the issue Thursday and said the phrase invokes patriotism, not religious faith.
The daily schoolroom ritual is not a prayer, but instead "a recognition of our founders' political philosophy that a power greater than the government gives the people their inalienable rights," said the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco in a 2-1 ruling.
"Thus, the pledge is an endorsement of our form of government, not of religion or any particular sect."
The dissenting judge, Stephen Reinhardt, said statements by members of Congress who added "under God" to the pledge in 1954 show conclusively that it was intended to "indoctrinate our nation's children with a state-held religious belief."
In a separate ruling, the same panel upheld the use of the national motto, "In God We Trust," on coins and currency. The language is patriotic and ceremonial, not religious, the court said. Reinhardt reluctantly joined the 3-0 decision, saying he was bound by the court's newly established precedent in the pledge case.
Both suits were filed by Michael Newdow, a Sacramento atheist who has brought numerous challenges to government-sponsored religious invocations. He said he would appeal the rulings to the full appellate court and the U.S. Supreme Court, but was not optimistic.
The rulings sent two messages, Newdow said: "To be a real American, you believe in God, and the judiciary unfortunately sometimes can't be trusted to uphold our constitutional rights when you're a disenfranchised minority."
Former Justice Department lawyer Gregory Katsas, who represented the Bush administration in the pledge case when the court heard it in 2007, heard a different message: that "one nation, under God" suggests a government that "is limited and bound to respect individual rights."
Newdow first challenged the Pledge of Allegiance in 2000 on behalf of his daughter, a student in a Sacramento-area elementary school. The appeals court ruled in June 2002 that the addition of "under God" was religiously motivated and sent "a message to nonbelievers that they are outsiders," in violation of the constitutional separation of church and state.
Congress reacted furiously, passing a resolution with virtually no dissenting votes that denounced the decision. The court put its ruling on hold until the case reached the Supreme Court, which sidestepped the constitutional issue and ruled that Newdow could not represent his daughter's interests because her mother had legal custody.
Newdow then refiled the suit on behalf of the parent of a kindergartner in the Sacramento suburb of Rio Linda. He won the first round before a federal judge in 2005, but a new appeals court panel issued a 193-page ruling Thursday upholding the pledge.
Pledge isn't prayer
In the majority opinion, Judge Carlos Bea acknowledged that "the words 'under God' have religious significance," but said they do not "convert the pledge into a prayer." Reinhardt, a member of the 2002 panel that found the language unconstitutional, said Thursday's majority ignored overwhelming evidence of religious motivation by the 1954 Congress.
He cited statements by numerous lawmakers denouncing atheistic communism and declaring a belief in God to be part of the American way of life. Reinhardt also pointed to President Dwight Eisenhower's signing statement that millions of schoolchildren would now proclaim "the dedication of our nation and its people to the Almighty."
During the same period, Reinhardt said, Congress adopted "In God We Trust" as the national motto, ordered it inscribed on paper money and established an annual National Prayer Breakfast.
By inserting religious language into the pledge, Reinhardt said, "we abandoned our historic principle that secular matters were for the state and matters of faith were for the church."
May 2013 April 2013 March 2013 February 2013 January 2013 December 2012 November 2012 October 2012 September 2012 August 2012 July 2012 June 2012 May 2012 April 2012 March 2012 February 2012 January 2012 December 2011 November 2011 October 2011 September 2011 August 2011 July 2011 June 2011 May 2011 April 2011 March 2011 February 2011 January 2011 December 2010 November 2010 October 2010 September 2010 August 2010 July 2010 June 2010 May 2010 April 2010 March 2010 February 2010 January 2010 December 2009 November 2009 October 2009 September 2009 August 2009 July 2009 June 2009 May 2009 April 2009 March 2009 February 2009 January 2009 December 2008