The two appeals court judges behind the ruling declaring the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional have been targeted by demonstrators surrounding the courthouse and a plane trailing a banner that read: "One Nation Under God."

"It's the noisiest thing I've ever experienced," said Alfred T. Goodwin, who issued the ruling June 26 with Stephen Reinhardt, a fellow judge on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of appeals.

"I think it's a bit excessive," said Reinhardt, who was at his office Saturday when he heard about the plane flying over his home.

Reinhardt and Goodwin said politics, notably the upcoming congressional elections, are fueling the controversy.

"I can't think of any decision where the entire Congress immediately rushes to condemn a decision by the court," Reinhardt said. "It's getting to be election time and this gives everyone in Congress a chance to prove they are patriotic."

The ruling stemmed from a lawsuit brought by a California atheist, Michael Newdow, who did not want his second-grade daughter to be forced to listen to the words "one nation under God."

In a 2-1 decision, the court said the phrase amounts to a government endorsement of religion. The words "under God" were inserted by Congress in 1954 to distinguish American democracy from "godless communism."

President Bush has criticized the ruling, and Attorney General John Ashcroft has said the government will join the Elk Grove, Calif., school board in asking for a new hearing before an 11-judge panel.

Goodwin and Reinhardt attended the 9th Circuit's annual conference this week. The dissenting judge on the pledge decision, Ferdinand Fernandez, did not attend. The gathering of the nation's largest circuit court drew hundreds of jurists.

In a tense moment at the start of the four-day conference, U.S. District Judge Michael R. Hogan of Eugene, Ore., performed a naturalization ceremony, then led several hundred people -- including many judges -- in reciting the pledge.

"One of the things that's great about our country is that we can disagree and still respect one another," Hogan said. He told those gathered to say "whatever words are appropriate." There was no change in volume when the words "under God" were spoken.