House Bill to Protect Words 'Under God' in Pledge of Allegiance Fails

House Republicans failed Wednesday to advance a bill protecting the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. Only a day earlier, the GOP had placed the measure on its "American Values Agenda" in hopes of bolstering the party's prospects in the fall election.

But Republicans could not muster a simple majority on the issue in a committee where they outnumber Democrats by six.

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The legislation tries to strip federal courts of jurisdiction over cases challenging the pledge. It responds to a federal appeals court ruling in 2002 that the pledge is unconstitutional because it contains the words "under God." A district court judge made a similar ruling last fall, citing the appeals court precedent.

A simple majority is required to report a bill to the House floor with a favorable committee recommendation. The House Judiciary Committee split 15-15 on the pledge bill Wednesday; Rep. Bob Inglis, R-S.C., joined 14 Democrats to oppose it.

Inglis said he is concerned that if the Republican-dominated Congress passes "court-stripping" legislation, a future Democrat-dominated Congress might pass its own bill denying courts jurisdiction of more issues. In addition, he said, the legislation would allow state courts to rule on issues related to the Pledge of Allegiance while denying litigants the ability to appeal to a federal court.

Seven of the committee's 23 Republicans did not show up for the vote, while three Democrats were absent. The chairman, Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., said he would try again for a majority on Thursday.

On Tuesday, Senate Republican leaders failed by a single vote to pass a constitutional amendment to ban the burning of the American flag.

The GOP's "American Values Agenda" also includes a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, which died in the Senate before it even reached a vote; a prohibition on human cloning; and possibly votes on several popular tax cuts.