Ninth Circuit Pledge Decision Recognizes “Liberty and Justice for All”

FFRF Applauds California Ruling

“It’s about time,” said a spokesperson for the Freedom From Religion Foundation, applauding an appeals court decision yesterday ruling unconstitutional the act of Congress in 1954 to insert “under God” into the Pledge of Allegiance.

“The original pledge, written in 1892 by a clergyman, was secular. Whole generations of schoolchildren grew up reciting a secular pledge, as I did in my one-room school in rural Wisconsin,” said Foundation president Anne Nicol Gaylor.

“The religious wording is a ‘johnny-come-lately,’ just as the motto ‘In God We Trust’ was only adopted in 1956.”

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled 2-1 in favor of plaintiff Michael Newdow’s legal challenge, agreeing the addition of “under God” violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

“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 in his decision.

“We would add: Imagine the consternation if the Pledge said ‘under Allah!'” Gaylor said. “It is equally offensive to force a captive audience of schoolchildren to recite or listen to a pledge that ties belief in ‘God’ to being a good American.”

Nonreligious Americans are about 14% of U.S. adult population, according to the definitive Religious Identification Survey 2001.

“We extend our congratulations to Dr. Newdow for this heartening victory. At the very least it has had a great educational impact in reminding the public that the Pledge of Allegiance has been tampered with, in a way that injures the freedom of conscience of nonreligious schoolchildren.”

The Foundation condemned the political grandstanding of politicians as “piety pandering,” saying it was “pitiful” to see the U.S. Senate adjourning hours after the California decision was handed down to recite the Pledge of Allegiance on the steps of the Capitol and sing “God Bless America.”

“It reflects the harm done when Congress chose to symbolically unite God and government in the 1950s. Look at the contempt with which our President and our political leaders now hold the constitutional principle of separation of church and state that was so treasured by the founding fathers,” Gaylor added. “It’s as if politicians today never heard of the Bill of Rights!

“The top law enforcer in the land, our Attorney General, ignorantly stated this decision is ‘contrary to two centuries of American tradition.’ Majority leader Tom Daschle’s statement turned nontheists into second-class citizens when he said the ‘healing process [from 9/11] has come by our belief in a supreme being.’ Many Americans do not believe in a supreme being, and the 9th U.S. Circuit correctly upheld our freedom of conscience. The majority does not rule when it comes to matters of conscience.”

The Foundation noted that the 1954 Act of Congress had a clear religious purpose. President Dwight Eisenhower, in signing the bill into law, 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 Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., is a national association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics) founded in 1978 which works to protect the constitutional principle of separation between church and state.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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