WASHINGTON – President Bush dismissed a court ruling against the Pledge of Allegiance as "out of step" with America, and Congress and the Justice Department asked a federal appeals court to reconsider its decision banning the oath from schools in Western states.
"This absurd decision was made by a court run amok," said House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas. "This Congress is not going to let anyone strip our nation of our proud heritage — not now, not ever."
Lawmakers filled both houses Thursday morning to recite the oath, right hands over hearts, some shouting as they reached the phrase "one nation under God."
Later, the House voted 416-3 to express its outrage at decision by a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that the reference to God is unconstitutional.
"The ruling treats any religious reference as inherently evil," the House resolution declared.
The Senate, which approved its own resolution within hours of the court ruling Wednesday in California, voted unanimously Thursday for legislation that would reaffirm both the wording of the Pledge of Allegiance and "In God We Trust" as the nation's motto.
Attorney General John Ashcroft announced that the Justice Department also was requesting a rehearing by the full 9th Circuit as part of its effort to "defend the ability of our nation's children to pledge allegiance to the American flag."
The judge who wrote the 2-1 decision, Circuit Judge Alfred T. Goodwin, stayed the ruling Thursday until other members of the court can decide whether to change course. The case could be reheard by the same three judges or by 11 judges. Under court rules, the decision was already on hold for 45 days to allow for challenges.
Bush, in Canada for an economic summit, said the United States needs "commonsense judges who understand that our rights were derived from God," and that he would appoint such judges.
Talking to reporters before a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Bush said that America "values our relationship with an Almighty."
"The declaration of God in the Pledge of Allegiance doesn't violate rights. As a matter of fact, it's a confirmation of the fact that we received our rights from God, as proclaimed in our Declaration of Independence," Bush said.
"That's why the ruling of the courts was out of step with the traditions and history of America," he said.
On Capitol Hill, nearly all senators gathered to salute the flag and hear a special prayer; the chamber normally is sparsely attended during what are usually these routine parts of the Senate's daily business.
The Senate floor and partly filled visitors galleries were hushed during Senate Chaplain Lloyd Ogilvie's prayer. "We are one Senate, united under You, to lead a nation that is free to say confidently, 'In God we trust,"' he said.
One of the three Democrats who opposed the House resolution, Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia, said that he believes the pledge in schools should be found constitutional, but the issue is best left to the courts.
"The only thing worse than the decision is the spectacle of members of the United States House of Representatives putting aside discussion of prescription drugs for Medicare to take up this resolution," Scott said. Reps. Pete Stark and Michael Honda, both of California, cast the other two "no" votes.
Eleven Democrats voted simply "present." They were Reps. Gary Ackerman, New York; Earl Blumenauer, Oregon; Michael Capuano, Massachusetts; Barney Frank, Massachusetts; Luis Gutierrez, Illinois; Alcee Hastings, Florida; Jim McDermott, Washington; Jerrold Nadler, New York; James Oberstar, Minnesota; Nydia Velazquez, New York; and Mel Watt, North Carolina.
Congressional Republicans used the uproar to renew their call for faster confirmation of Bush's conservative judicial nominees by the Democrat-controlled Senate. In response, Democrats noted that the judge who wrote the decision was appointed by a Republican president, Richard Nixon.
"We are one nation under God. We affirmed that today as Americans, not as Republicans or Democrats, and we did so proudly," said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.
The ruling, if allowed to stand, would bar schoolchildren from reciting the pledge in nine Western states. It came in a lawsuit filed by a California father whose daughter must listen to her second-grade classmates recite the pledge.