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The Pledge of Allegiance: Is It Illegal?

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• The History of the Pledge of Allegiance
Text of the Pledge of Allegiance

A federal Court of Appeals recently ruled that the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional (illegal) because the inclusion of the words "under God" are a government approval of religion, which the First Amendment technically doesn't allow. This decision is under review by the same court that issued it and may very well be reversed by that same court.

The ruling, by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, affects only these states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. But other federal appeals courts may follow suit, depending on what the 9th Circuit court eventually decides.

If the court does not reverse itself, then the case may be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which would decide the case next term (beginning in October) because its term for this year is over.

Many people, including President Bush and many lawmakers, are upset by this decision. These people say that the decision denies the importance of religion in people's lives. Others think that the inclusion of the words "under God" mean that schoolkids might have to pledge allegiance to not only the flag but also to gods that they don't believe in.

The case was brought by a California man who doesn't believe in any god. He didn't want his daughter having to pledge allegiance to any god. Other people whose religion has more than one god agree with the court's decision as well.

The Supreme Court has ruled that schoolkids cannot be required to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, although teachers can be required to lead it. The Court has also ruled that students cannot hold religious meetings at graduations and that schools cannot post copies of the Ten Commandments in public school classrooms.

All of these things would seem to suggest that the Supreme Court would uphold the appeals court's decision. Yet, the Supreme Court itself begins its sessions everyday with a prayer, as does Congress. Every dollar bill and coin printed have the words "In God We Trust" on them. Many favorite American songs have references to God. Can the Supreme Court say that all these things are illegal?

Technically, yes they can. The difference here is the setting. These are public schools, supported by public tax dollars, and funded in part by the federal government. Public schools are subject to federal laws, meaning the Constitution. The Supreme Court may very well instruct Congress to take the words "under God" back out of the Constitution. (Congress added them in 1954.)

Or the Court may find, as did an Ohio federal appeals court not too long ago, that a reference to God is constitutional. (That court said that the Ohio state motto, "With God, all things are possible," did not break any laws.)

It remains to be seen.

Graphics courtesy of ArtToday

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