WASHINGTON – The House voted Thursday to condemn a federal appeals court's rulings that reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools is unconstitutional because of its reference to God.
The nonbinding resolution, passed 400-7 with 15 members voting present, states that the phrase "one nation under God" in the pledge reflects the religious faith central to the founding of the nation and that its recitation is a patriotic act, not a statement of religious faith.
It urged the Attorney General to appeal the decision of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to the Supreme Court and encouraged the continued voluntary recitation of the pledge in school classrooms.
"The 9th Circuit continues to get it wrong," said House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis. He said the court had refused to rehear the case at a time when the nation is preparing for "an impending war to defend the values upon which our great nation is founded."
The court last summer ruled in favor of Michael Newdow, a Sacramento atheist who said his daughter shouldn't be subjected to collective recitations of the pledge. On Feb. 28, the court stood by that ruling.
Bush administration officials have criticized the rulings, but have not said whether the administration will appeal the case to the Supreme Court.
The House resolution says the appeals court rulings are inconsistent with Supreme Court decisions that voluntarily reciting the pledge and similar patriotic expressions is consistent with the First Amendment. Lawmakers warned that the court decision also threatened school recitations of other historic documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address.
The House and Senate approved similar resolutions last summer.
Lawmakers not supporting the resolution questioned whether Congress should be telling the judicial branch how to interpret the law. They opposed a provision in the resolution stating that the president should nominate federal court judges who interpret the Constitution correctly.
"It doesn't stop at expressing disapproval," said Rep. William Delahunt, D-Mass., who voted "present." "It goes further in a way that I believe would set an unwise and dangerous precedent." He said it sends a "not-so-subtle message" to judges that "they had better tailor their constitutional views to those of the congressional majority if they wish to be confirmed."
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said the 9th Circuit decision was "exactly consistent" with the Supreme Court rulings over the last 40 years on school prayers. The court, he said, "has said that we cannot ask schoolchildren to recite a prayer or a belief in God in the classroom setting, even if we allow the dissenters to walk out of the room."
Nadler was one of seven Democrats to vote against the resolution. The others were Robert Scott of Virginia; Jim McDermott of Washington; Pete Stark and Mike Honda of California, Gary Ackerman of New York and Barney Frank of Massachusetts.
The 9th Circuit comprises the western states of Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, Montana, Oregon and Washington. The court, after its recent decision, issued an order putting the decision on hold pending a review by the Supreme Court so that students in public schools can continue to recite the pledge.