So says the 9th Circuit US Court of Appeals, in ruling that the phrase "under God" violates the Establishment Clause.
"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," Judge Alfred T. Goodwin wrote for the three-judge panel.
The appeals said that when President Eisenhower signed the legislation inserting "under God" after the words "one nation," he wrote that "millions of our schoolchildren will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and rural schoolhouse, the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty."
The court noted that the U.S. Supreme Court has said students cannot hold religious invocations at graduations and cannot be compelled to recite the pledge. But when the pledge is recited in a classroom, a student who objects is confronted with an "unacceptable choice between participating and protesting," the appeals court said.
"Although 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," the court said.
Many moons ago, when I was a freshman at Stuyvesant High School, the ruling came down from the school board that the Pledge of Allegiance was to be read over the loudspeaker every morning. This was not a popular decision among the students, but it was ameliorated by a policy that no one was actually required to stand and recite the pledge. In the case of my very loosely run homeroom, I can't recall a single instance of a student reciting along. Most of the time, you couldn't even hear it over the din of the room (we had a very disinterested homeroom teacher).
You could certainly make the case that "under God" would be counter to quite a few people's religion at Stuyvesant. I knew quite a few classmates who were Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist, not to mention the Conservative and Orthodox Jews who are forbidden to say words like "God". They have a very strict interpretation of "thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain", which basically says that since we cannot know God, we cannot know the proper way to say His name, and so we may be profaning Him by addressing Him by name. When they refer to God, they use the Hebrew word "Hashem", which means "the name of God", or simply "the name". In computer scientist terms, it's a pointer.
Those of us who remember the shameless way that Bush the Elder used the Pledge of Allegiance to flog Mike Dukakis will find a certain irony in the fact that this ruling came down during the reign of Bush the Younger. I've no doubt that Dubya will use this ruling to whip supporters into a frenzy, especially when he's out on the campaign trail. As I've noted before, we should bear in mind that not all those who oppose public displays and declarations of religion are themselves nonreligious or even non-Christian.
It will not surprise me if the Supremes overturn this decision. As my friend Matt has noted, this was a three-judge panel's ruling, so it may not even survive the 9th Circuit en banc. The same court has twice ruled that "In God We Trust" on US currency is not unconstitutional, after all.Posted by Charles Kuffner on June 26, 2002 to Legal matters