Congressional Gutless Wonders (November 2002)

The last act of the U.S. Senate before adjourning its fall session was to pass by unanimous consent yet another resolution reaffirming that “under God” should remain in the Pledge of Allegiance, also reaffirming that “In God We Trust” is the national motto.

The U.S. House had overwhelmingly passed S. 2690 on Oct. 8 by a roll call vote of 401-5. All 212 Republicans voting supported the resolution. Five Democrats–Reps. Barney Frank, MA; Mike Honda, CA; Jim McDermott, WA, Bobby Scott, VA, and Pete Stark, CA–voted no, and 4 Democrats voted present. Twenty-one did not vote: 10 Republicans and 11 Democrats.

Rep. Stark spoke in opposition to the resolution, noting he had earlier opposed a resolution prohibiting the removal of the words “under God” from the pledge.

“Just as we should not bar anyone from reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, we should not force anyone to recite words they do not believe. The Court was clear in affirming that the term ‘under God’ was more than a casual colloquialism. The meaning of these words is only proven by Congress’ religiously inspired crusade to chastise and even undo the Ninth Circuit’s opinion,” said Stark.

“Congress ought to heed the Ninth Circuit Court and our constitutional responsibility to respect the diversity of religious and personal belief in America. We should not legislate use of the term ‘under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance, when many proud Americans do not share this belief.

“We ought to instead reaffirm the notion of a ‘nation indivisible,’ and a pledge that fully recognizes the shared beliefs and common aspirations of all Americans. I urge my colleagues to embrace this idea, honor a basic principle of our Constitution, and vote no on this bill.”

The resolution, several pages long, is a laundry list of alleged actions and quotes supposedly showing the religious nature of the United States and its formation. It concludes: “The erroneous rationale of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Newdow would lead to the absurd result that the Constitution’s use of the express religious reference ‘Year of our Lord’ in Article VII violates the First Amendment of the Constitution, and that, therefore, a school district’s policy and practice of teacher-led voluntary recitations of the Constitution itself would be unconstitutional.”

The House added language providing that anyone reciting the pledge should remove nonreligious headgear with the right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, with the hand resting over the heart.

The lawsuit prompting several months of Congressional hysteria, Newdow v. U.S. Congress, has been complicated by a county judge’s recent order to remove from the lawsuit the only student involved. On Sept. 25, Family Court Judge James Moze,Sacramento, Calif., ruled in a child custody decision in favor of the child’s mother, Sandra Banning, against the father and litigant, Michael Newdow. Moze said removal of the child from the lawsuit would protect her from harm. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals–which ruled in Newdow’s favor in June that the addition of “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance was unconstitutional–will make a determination later this year on whether the case can be kept alive without the student plaintiff.

Newdow said the girl’s identity was not made public until her mother attempted to intervene in the case. Banning, an avowed born-again Christian, had originally agreed to the lawsuit on her daughter’s behalf.

Also on Oct. 16, the U.S. Senate, by unanimous consent, passed S. Res. 343, authorizing representation by the Senate Legal Counsel in Newdow v. Eagen, Newdow’s challenge of congressional chaplaincies.

Freedom From Religion Foundation