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."
June 2021 May 2021 April 2021 March 2021 February 2021 January 2021 December 2020 November 2020 October 2020 September 2020 August 2020 July 2020 June 2020 May 2020 April 2020 March 2020 February 2020 January 2020 December 2019 November 2019 October 2019 September 2019 August 2019 July 2019 June 2019 May 2019 April 2019 March 2019 February 2019 January 2019 December 2018 November 2018 October 2018 September 2018 August 2018 July 2018 June 2018 May 2018 April 2018 March 2018 February 2018 January 2018 December 2017 November 2017 October 2017 September 2017 August 2017 July 2017 June 2017 May 2017 April 2017 March 2017 February 2017 January 2017 December 2016 November 2016 October 2016 September 2016 August 2016 July 2016 June 2016 May 2016 April 2016 March 2016 February 2016 January 2016 December 2015 November 2015 October 2015 September 2015 August 2015 July 2015 June 2015 May 2015 April 2015 March 2015 February 2015 January 2015 December 2014 November 2014 October 2014 September 2014 August 2014 July 2014 June 2014 May 2014 April 2014 March 2014 February 2014 January 2014 December 2013 November 2013 October 2013 September 2013 August 2013 July 2013 June 2013 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