Opinion: So what did those federal judges say about the Pledge of Allegiance? And did the ruling ruffle feathers?


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In case you missed it, a federal appeals court this month issued a thought-provoking opinion about God. Or, more specifically, about the Pledge of Allegiance and its reference to “one nation under God.”

The famously liberal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals surprised many observers by reversing one of its more controversial opinions, saying the reference to the Deity is essentially patriotic, not religious:


We hold that the Pledge of Allegiance does not violate the Establishment Clause because Congress’ ostensible and predominant purpose was to inspire patriotism and that the context of the Pledge -- its wording as a whole, the preamble to the statute, and this nation’s history -- demonstrate that it is a predominantly patriotic exercise. For these reasons, the phrase “one Nation under God” does not turn this patriotic exercise into a religious activity.

The decision goes on for dozens of pages, but it makes for intriguing reading for students of government, the law and religion. The judges discuss previous cases involving the always touchy issue of religion in the public arena -- you can read about cases concerning the Ten Commandments, among other things.

The pledge, of course, is a common feature of American life, a regular part of city council and school board meetings all over. In fact, the photo above is from a city council meeting in Wisconsin -- we’ll explain the chicken in just a bit.

Follow this link to the court’s ruling. Be warned: It’s a legal document and reads, well, like a legal document (although an amazingly accessible one). Alas, it’s also in pdf format. But skip ahead ...

... to page 5 and 6 for a defense of the pledge (with italics provided by the judges):

The Pledge of Allegiance serves to unite our vast nation through the proud recitation of some of the ideals upon which our Republic was founded and for which we continue to strive: one Nation under God -- the Founding Fathers’ belief that the people of this nation are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; indivisible -- although we have individual states, they are united in one Republic; with liberty -- the government cannot take away the people’s inalienable rights; and justice for all -- everyone in America is entitled to “equal justice under the law” (as is inscribed above the main entrance to our Supreme Court). Millions of people daily recite these words when pledging allegiance to the United States of America.

The dissent, also eloquent, starts on page 61. It makes for great reading too. On page 62, you’ll find this:


To put it bluntly, no judge familiar with the history of the Pledge could in good conscience believe, as today’s majority purports to do, that the words “under God” were inserted into the Pledge for any purpose other than an explicitly and predominantly religious one.

As for the rooster costume, that was worn by an unidentified woman attending a meeting of the Janesville City Council last month. The issue: Whether to allow people to keep chickens in their backyards. The measure lost.

-- Steve Padilla

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