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School District to Appeal Calif. Pledge Ruling to Supreme Court

The school district at the center of the fight over the Pledge of Allegiance said Monday it will ask the Supreme Court to overturn a ruling barring use of the pledge in classrooms.

Dave Gordon, superintendent of the Elk Grove Unified School District, also said attorneys will ask that the ruling be put on hold so children can continue reciting the pledge.

The ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which says the phrase "under God" is unconstitutional when recited in public schools, takes effect in nine Western states next Monday.

Gordon said the district will substitute other patriotic exercises, such as a song, a poem or quotes from historic figures, if the ruling isn't put on hold. But on Monday, students in this Sacramento suburb started their school day with the pledge.

The Elk Grove district was the target of a lawsuit that brought the pledge into federal court. Michael Newdow, a Sacramento atheist, sued the schools, alleging that his daughter shouldn't be subjected to collective recitations of the pledge.

In a case that bitterly divided the nation and the federal judiciary, the appeals court ruled in Newdow's favor last summer, declaring that use of the pledge in public schools violates the Constitution. It said use of the words "under God" amounts to a government endorsement of religion.

On Friday, the court refused to reconsider its ruling. It was not clear whether the government will appeal, but Attorney General John Ashcroft has said the Justice Department would "spare no effort to preserve the rights of all our citizens to pledge their allegiance to the American flag."

Michael Gulden, principal at Barbara Comstock Morse Elementary School, said teachers haven't explained to the students yet what the ruling means.

"I don't think a lot of kids would understand," he said. "For older kids, it's something they've done every day since they started school."