Published June 27, 2002
WASHINGTON – The Senate cemented its unanimous vote to condemn a federal court ruling against the Pledge of Allegiance with a Thursday morning recitation of the Pledge, preceded by their daily morning prayer.
After the Pledge, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle thanked the Senate chaplain, Rev. Lloyd Ogilvie for his prayer, saying "We are one nation under God."
In his morning prayer, Ogilvie said, "There is no separation between God and State ... In gratitude, we declare our motto: 'In God we trust' ... It is with reverence that, in a moment, we will respect our commitment to you in the Pledge of Allegiance. Help us to savor those words ... May we never lose our sense of awe and wonder over the privilege of living in this religiously free country ... As we declare our convictions, we affirm that patriotism, we affirm that we are one Senate united under you, in God we trust."
The Senate voted 99-0 on Wednesday to condemn the 9th Circuit Court's decision that the Pledge is unconstitutional because it includes the words "under God," just hours after the ruling was made public. Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., was in the hospital at the time and unable to vote.
On the House side Thursday, most of the chamber assembled to pledge allegiance "under God" during morning business. On Wednesday, about 100 members gathered on the steps of the Capitol to pledge their allegiance and immediately followed the recitation of the pledge with a chorus of Irving Berlin's "God Bless America."
Congress added the phrase "under God" to the pledge in 1954. The court ruled that its inclusion amounts to a government endorsement of religion in violation of the Constitution's Establishment Clause, which requires a separation of church and state.
"A profession that we are a nation 'under God' is identical, for Establishment Clause purposes, 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 to religion," Judge Alfred T. Goodwin wrote for the three-judge panel.
"Wrong decision" was the White House response to the court's ruling.
"The president's reaction was that this ruling is ridiculous," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, who said President Bush was informed of the San Francisco court's ruling while attending the G-8 summit in Calgary, Canada. "The Supreme Court itself begins each of its sessions with the phrase, 'God save the United States and this honorable court.'"
"The view of the White House is that this was a wrong decision and the Department of Justice is now evaluating how to seek redress," he added.
Congressional reaction was sharp, immediate, and unkind.
"Just nuts," Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said.
"Stupid, stupid," echoed Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va.
"Disgraceful," said Sen. Zell Miller, D-Ga.
"Political activism run amok," decided Sen. George Allen, R-Va.
"I've been searching for a nice way to put it since I first heard about this ... There isn't. This is idiotic," said Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga.
The Senate's unanimous resolution was accompanied by vows for further action to overturn the decision, possibly even through constitutional amendment.
Legal experts said the ruling was based on good-faith interpretations of legal statues, and is largely, though not entirely, immune from attack.
"Only two things can change this opinion — a reversal by the entire Ninth Circuit or the Supreme Court, or a constitutional amendment if the Supreme Court agrees with this interpretation," said George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley.
The case was brought by Michael A. Newdow, a Sacramento, Calif., atheist who objected because his second-grade daughter was required to recite the pledge at the Elk Grove school district. A federal judge had dismissed his lawsuit.
Newdow, a doctor who holds a law degree and represented himself, called the pledge a "religious idea that certain people don't agree with."
Newdow told Fox News that proponents of the pledge have threatened his life.
"We have a lot of God-loving people that seem to think killing other people is the way to deal with things you don't agree with," he said.
The decision will affect only the states of Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington state, which the 9th Circuit Court covers.
Though no word has been made of an appeal yet, many believe the case could be heard by the United States Supreme Court.
"I think the pledge is a good thing for the country and I hope we keep it," said House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo. "[T]his is a normative thing, it is not a religious question ... and I would hope that in the future that would be the view of the court."
"In recent years, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned 27 of 29 9th Circuit decisions so that tells you that the 9th Circuit is out of step with the rest of the federal judiciary," said Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.
Fox News' James Rosen and The Associated Press contributed to this report.