Amid the Scorn, Some Applaud Court's Ruling on Pledge of Allegiance

Scorn rained down on the appeals judges who ruled it is unconstitutional to expose schoolchildren to a Pledge of Allegiance declaring America "under God." But a few voices have been raised in support of the decision.

"The law is very clear on this. There is supposed to be separation of church and state," said University of California, Berkeley, professor Alan Dundes, an expert in folklore and traditions.

Politicians swiftly denounced this week's 2-1 ruling by a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The Senate voted unanimously in condemnation, and the House voted 416-3 for a similar resolution.

"This decision is nuts," said Majority Leader Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., summarizing the popular view.

But three House members stood against the majority: Democrats Bobby Scott of Virginia and Mike Honda and Pete Stark of California.

Honda said he was concerned that the phrase "under God" erodes the nation's diversity and religious freedom guaranteed by the Constitution. Stark said he thought it was wrong to add the phrase to the pledge; that was done by Congress in 1954 as a Cold War antidote to godless Communism.

Scott deplored the fact that Congress was devoting time to a judicial issue instead of working on the budget deficit.

"The only thing worse than the decision was the spectacle of watching members of Congress run all over town to get in front of cameras so they could pledge allegiance," he said.

Some support has come from predictable sources, like the California chapter of American Atheists and the American Civil Liberties Union.

"We were delighted with the judge's sense. It was common sense given the previous finding that you don't burden the captive audience of children with private religious beliefs," said Anne Gaylor, president of the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation.

But mainstream opinion differed drastically. The Sacramento man who brought the lawsuit that prompted the ruling, Michael Newdow, got death threats. Harsh words have also been directed at Judge Alfred Goodwin, an appointee of President Nixon who wrote the ruling.

Some attorneys find the criticism unfair.

"He did what he thought he needed to do in light of the law," said Eric Isaacson of San Diego.

Since Sept. 11, Americans have shown renewed interest in reciting the pledge and singing patriotic songs such as "God Bless America."

Dundes, who grew up saying the pre-1954 pledge, thinks adding God was a mistake that shuts out Americans who don't believe in the Judeo-Christian God or believe in many gods or no god at all.

Critics and supporters agree on one thing: the ruling will be overturned.

San Francisco Chronicle columnist Jon Carroll wrote that the ruling was "sensible and obvious. 'Under God' is intrusive and unnecessary in a pledge of patriotism; we're not speaking as believers, we are speaking as citizens."

"Pagans and atheists and lovers of Vishnu," he added, "enjoy your moment as fully fledged Americans — but don't quit your day jobs."