Hatch Asks for More Legal Weight Against Pledge Ruling

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is urging the Senate's legal counsel to file an amicus brief to accompany a government challenge against a federal court's decision that the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional.

In a letter written to staff lawyer Patricia Mack Bryan and released Tuesday, Hatch, the incoming chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, vehemently disagrees with the most recent decision on the Pledge's constitutionality and asks for more legal action to oppose the decision.

"As you know, I consider this ruling -- that the Pledge of Allegiance is somehow unconstitutional -- to be an abomination," he wrote. "I fully supported the Senate's unanimous resolution earlier this year to have the Office of Senate Legal Counsel move to intervene in that case and petition for an en banc rehearing, and appreciated the effort you and your staff put into this case."

The case is Newdow v. U.S. Congress. In June, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decided 2-1 to overturn a 1954 act of Congress that inserted the phrase "under God" after the phrase "one nation" in the pledge.

The court ruled that the pledge is unconstitutional because the phrase "under God" 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.

The court ruling meant that public school students in the 9th Circuit's jurisdiction must stop reciting the pledge as it is written.

But one day later, Goodwin blocked his own ruling from being enforced indefinitely. The Justice Department also requested a hearing on the issue.

On Dec. 4, the same federal appeals court ruled that Michael Newdow -- who sued on behalf of his daughter, asking the court to deem the pledge unconstitutional -- had a right to bring the case. The girl's mother and others had challenged the original decision by saying Newdow can not file the challenge on behalf of his daughter because he does not have custody of her.

Hatch's move is just the latest in the Congress' bipartisan effort to oppose the court decision.

The day after the original ruling, the Senate voted unanimously to condemn the decision and members recited the pledge in the chamber that morning.

On the House side, most of that chamber gathered to pledge allegiance "under God" the day after the ruling. About 100 members also gathered on the steps of the Capitol to pledge their allegiance and immediately followed the recitation with a chorus of Irving Berlin's "God Bless America."

President Bush denounced the court ruling as "out of step with the traditions and history of America."

Others also weighed in on the court's decision.

"Just nuts," said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.

"Stupid, stupid," said Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va.

"The Justice Department will defend the ability of our nation's children to pledge allegiance to the American flag," said Attorney General John Ashcroft.

The case was launched when Michael Newdow filed a lawsuit against the Elk Grove Unified School District in California, claiming his daughter was injured by being forced to listen to children reciting the pledge. Children cannot be forced to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in class.

In arguing against Newdow's lawsuit, the federal government said that the religious content of "one nation under God" was minimal.