SAN FRANCISCO – Just one day after he stunned the nation by declaring the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional, a federal appeals court judge on Thursday blocked his own ruling from being enforced.
Judge Alfred T. Goodwin, who authored the 2-1 opinion that the phrase "under God" crossed the line between church and state, stayed his decision — preventing it from taking effect until the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decides whether it wants to alter course.
The appeals court can rehear the case with the same three judges, or it can go to a full 11-judge panel. The court has often overturned controversial three-judge opinions. Goodwin's latest action has no immediate impact, since the ruling already was on hold by court rules for 45 days to allow for any court challenges.
Vikram Amar, a Hastings College of the Law scholar who closely follows the appeals court, said the latest ruling means that, for now, Wednesday's opinion finding the pledge unconstitutional "has no legal force or effect."
"They're acknowledging the likelihood that the whole 9th Circuit may take a look at this," Amar said.
Goodwin flabbergasted people across the political spectrum when he declared that reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools is unconstitutional because the phrase "one nation under God" — inserted by Congress in 1954 — amounts to a government endrosement of religion.
Legal scholars immediately said the ruling would probably be overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, if not reversed beforehand by the 9th Circuit.
"I would bet an awful lot on that," said Harvard University scholar Laurence Tribe.
The lawsuit was brought by a California atheist who did not want his second-grade daughter to be forced to listen to the pledge.
Goodwin said leading schoolchildren in a pledge that says the United States is "one nation under God" is as objectionable as asking them to say "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."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.