San Francisco Court permits 'Under God' to remain in the Pledge of Allegiance because ". . . the pledge is an endorsement of our form of government, not of religion or any particular sect."
-- From "Appeals Court says 'Under God' not a prayer" by Bob Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle Staff Writer 3/12/10
The federal court that touched off a furor in 2002 by declaring the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance to be an unconstitutional endorsement of religion took another look at the issue Thursday and said the phrase invokes patriotism, not religious faith.
The daily schoolroom ritual is not a prayer, but instead "a recognition of our founders' political philosophy that a power greater than the government gives the people their inalienable rights," said the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco in a 2-1 ruling.
In a separate ruling, the same panel upheld [in a 3-0 decision] the use of the national motto, "In God We Trust," on coins and currency. The language is patriotic and ceremonial, not religious, the court said.
Both suits were filed by Michael Newdow, a Sacramento atheist who has brought numerous challenges to government-sponsored religious invocations. He said he would appeal the rulings to the full appellate court and the U.S. Supreme Court, but was not optimistic.
Newdow first challenged the Pledge of Allegiance in 2000 on behalf of his daughter, a student in a Sacramento-area elementary school. The appeals court ruled in June 2002 that the addition of "under God" was religiously motivated and sent "a message to nonbelievers that they are outsiders," in violation of the constitutional separation of church and state.
Congress reacted furiously, passing a resolution with virtually no dissenting votes that denounced the decision. The court put its ruling on hold until the case reached the Supreme Court, which sidestepped the constitutional issue and ruled that Newdow could not represent his daughter's interests because her mother had legal custody.
Newdow then refiled the suit on behalf of the parent of a kindergartner in the Sacramento suburb of Rio Linda. He won the first round before a federal judge in 2005, but a new appeals court panel issued a 193-page ruling Thursday upholding the pledge.
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