Public Schools Can't Require Flag Pledge With 'under God' In It, Federal Court Rules

Decision Respects Freedom Of Conscience, Says AU's Lynn

Congress violated the constitutional separation of church and state when it passed a law adding the words "under God" to the Pledge to the Flag, and public school officials cannot pressure students to recite it, a federal appellate court has ruled.

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held today that the 1954 congressional action incorporating religious language into the Pledge was an "impermissible endorsement of religion."

"A profession that we are a nation 'under God' is identical...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 of religion," observed the court.

Added the court, "The coercive effect of this policy is particularly pronounced in the school setting given the age and impressionability of schoolchildren, and their understanding that they are required to adhere to the norms set by their school, their teacher and their fellow students."

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said the court decision reflects an appropriate concern for the religious liberty rights of all Americans.

"This decision shows respect for freedom of conscience," said Lynn. "You can be a patriotic American regardless of your religious belief or lack of religion. Our government should never coerce school children -- or anyone else -- to make a profession of religious belief.

"America is an incredibly diverse country with some 2,000 different religions and denominations, as well as millions of Americans who profess no religion at all," continued Lynn. "Government actions should respect that diversity."

Lynn noted that the Pledge of Allegiance was originally secular. Written in 1892 by a Baptist minister, the Pledge was recited for several decades without any religious references.

"Today's ruling simply says that schools should return to the original Pledge," Lynn said. "There wasn't anything wrong with it before 1954. In fact, America survived the Great Depression and won two World Wars with a completely secular Pledge.

"Members of Congress made a mistake when they added religious language to the flag pledge," concluded Lynn. "It changed an appropriate patriotic exercise into a religious ritual in which many Americans cannot in good conscience participate."

The challenge to religious language in the pledge was brought by Michael A. Newdow, a California atheist who objected to the pledge recitation at his daughter's elementary school in the Elk Grove Unified School District.

Judge Alfred T. Goodwin, who wrote today's Newdow v. U.S. Congress decision, was appointed to the federal court by President Richard Nixon.

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.

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.