A Godforsaken Ruling


A panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled 2 to 1 that the Pledge of Allegiance--you know, “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America ... “--is unconstitutional. And the reason? Because of the phrase “under God” inserted by Congress 48 years ago.

The court said an atheist or holder of non-Judeo-Christian beliefs could see these words as an endorsement of monotheism, even though students can opt out.

“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,” wrote Judge Alfred T. Goodwin.


It’s a fundamentally silly ruling, which deserves to be tossed out, as was the initial suit by a Sacramento atheist. For now, erasing the pledge applies only to 9th Circuit states--California, Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. Implementation of the ruling is suspended pending appeals.

The original 1892 pledge didn’t contain the phrase “under God,” which was added after a vigorous debate during a period of loyalty oaths and Red-baiting. The Cold War insertion of the phrase in 1954 clearly was driven as much by ideology as religion. That said, for all the overheated and dire predictions voiced then, the “under God” phrase has in no way led to establishment of an official state religion. Further, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1943 that it was unconstitutional to force pledge recitations. Thus the 9th Circuit decision is a cure without an ailment.

In fact, references to the Almighty have long been an integral part of everyday American life--honest to God. That’s not too surprising for a nation initially organized by Europeans fleeing persecution for practicing their beliefs in God. The pledge (“one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”) is recited daily by millions, with few, if any, enforcement problems over which words someone mumbles or skips.

When taking office, many government officials, including judges, take an oath invoking God. Court witnesses swear to tell the truth “so help me God.” In fact, the Supreme Court, where this case should go with Godspeed, opens sessions with a reference to God.

And what about that oppressive song “God Bless America” that the entire Congress sang on government property after Sept. 11? Then there’s the problem of U.S. currency, which may now be unconstitutional because it says, “In God We Trust.” The appeal should come swiftly. God willing, it will.