The state asked a federal appeals court to reverse a ruling that said it was unconstitutional to have students recite the Pledge of Allegiance in school.

A three-judge panel of the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 in June that the phrase "under God" violates the Constitution's separation of church and state.

The circuit blocked the decision from being enforced in public schools to allow for appeals. The court can rehear the case with the same three judges or with an 11-judge panel. It can also let the decision stand.

"If the U.S. Supreme Court can begin its day with 'God save the United States and this honorable court,' school children should be permitted to recite the Pledge of Allegiance," Gov. Gray Davis said on Thursday.

The 2-1 ruling stemmed from a lawsuit by a California atheist who objected to his elementary school daughter being confronted with the pledge in public school. He successfully argued that the pledge had religious connotations.

The state's attorneys said the pledge is not a prayer or other form of religious exercise but a "vocal expression of patriotism and duty."