A bill that claims to protect the Pledge of Allegiance from legal challenges is actually an assault on the U.S. Constitution and a threat to the rights of members of minority religions, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
The Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives is due to take up the bill, the "Pledge Protection Act" (H.R. 2028) today. Sponsors say the measure is needed to protect the Pledge against lawsuits challenging the phrase "under God."
But Americans United charges that the measure is really an attempt by Congress to usurp the power of the federal courts and deny rights to members of minority faiths who may object on religious grounds to reciting the Pledge. The bill would deny the right of federal district and appeals courts to hear cases challenging the religious content of the Pledge, thus cutting off many Americans' access to legal redress in certain instances.
"This bill runs roughshod over the rights of the American people," said Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn. "It is of dubious constitutionality and is designed to score cheap election-year points."
Added Lynn, "Far from protecting the Pledge, this bill insults the very democratic principles embodied in that affirmation."
Religious Right allies in Congress introduced the bill after a federal appeals court in 2002 struck down public school recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance because of its religious content. Ironically, the lawsuit that sparked the bill is now dead. On appeal, the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed the legal action, saying the man who brought it lacked the right to do so.
Many constitutional scholars doubt that Congress has the right to strip the federal courts of their authority to hear cases concerning the core freedoms listed in the Bill of Rights. Giving Congress this power, they point out, would make it possible for lawmakers to take away free speech, free press or freedom of religion rights with a simple majority vote.
"Legislation like this might score some points with the Religious Right, but it makes a mockery of our system of government and makes some Americans second-class citizens," Lynn said. "The Judiciary Committee should quickly reject this extreme measure and move on to real business."
Americans United for Separation of Church and State is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.