Background: Fight for the Pledge of Allegiance
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JIM LEHRER: Banning “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance. Spencer Michels begins.
SPOKESMAN: No one should be made to feel like an outsider because of his or her religious beliefs.
SPENCER MICHELS: The man who ignited the controversy is Michael Newdow, of Sacramento. He’s a doctor with a law degree, and a self-proclaimed atheist.
CHILDREN: “One nation under God…”
SPENCER MICHELS: Objecting to the phrase “under God,” Newdow sued his local school district on behalf of his second-grade daughter.
MICHAEL NEWDOW: I think the government is not suppose to be imposing its religious beliefs on any of our citizens, and it’s clearly doing that with “under God” in the pledge, and so I thought it should be out.
SPENCER MICHELS: A trial judge dismissed his suit, but yesterday in San Francisco, a three-judge panel of the ninth circuit court of appeals agreed with him, saying the words “under God” violate a section of the first amendment known as the establishment clause. It says: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” Judge Alfred Goodwin, a Nixon appointee, wrote the majority opinion in the 2 to 1 ruling. It said, “to an atheist or a believer in certain non-Judeo- Christian religions or philosophies, “One nation under God” may reasonably appear to be an attempt to enforce a religious orthodoxy of monotheism, and is therefore impermissible.”
The lone dissent came from Judge Ferdinand Fernandez, appointed by the first President Bush. He wrote: “We will soon find ourselves prohibited from using our album of patriotic songs in many public settings. ‘God Bless America’ and ‘America the Beautiful’ will be gone for sure, and currency beware.”
SPOKESMAN: We ought to be outraged by this judicial decision.
SPENCER MICHELS: The decision provoked bipartisan outrage in Congress.
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: This one is so far out, so offensive.
SEN. TRENT LOTT: This outrageous decision by the ninth circuit court of appeals.
SEN. ROBERT BYRD: What are we coming to when we can’t speak God’s name?
SPENCER MICHELS: This morning, the House of Representatives packed the chamber to recite the daily pledge, a ritual that’s usually attended sparsely.
GROUP: “And to the republic, for which it stands.”
SPENCER MICHELS: There was a similar scene across the Capitol in the Senate.
GROUP: “One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
SPENCER MICHELS: But in on the streets of San Francisco, the reaction was less one-sided.
GINNY FANG: I understand the need for patriotism and being positive about your country, but that was a reason… one of the major founding points of how our country was founded, and I do believe that’s very important to keep separate.
SPENCER MICHELS: Others found the ruling offensive.
RHONDA RYDSTROM: The Pledge of Allegiance is just a small way of kind of saying we respect our country. I think it’s awful. It’s ridiculous.
SPENCER MICHELS: But children in the nine western states that make up the Ninth Circuit probably won’t be affected soon after the judge who wrote the decision blocked his own ruling from being enforced, and the Justice Department announced it would seek a hearing by the full appellate court.