This country doesn't have a prayer.
It does have a pledge, however. And that's a distinction some members of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals couldn't seem to understand as they upheld an earlier ruling banning "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools.
The court's action on Friday is sure to astound patriots and flag-wavers, as did the first ruling by two members of a three-judge panel last summer. But just as the court believed it was worthwhile to consider the concepts of freedom raised by Michael Newdow's challenge on behalf of his daughter, neither should we dismiss the basic arguments it brings to bear.
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," guarantees the opening clause of the First Amendment. Does recitation of the pledge by schoolchildren, led by a government-hired teacher, coerce a young, impressionable mind into believing the United States is endorsing religion?
It does not, for reasons best summed up by Circuit Judge Diarmuid F. O'Scannlain, in his dissent.
The original ruling, O'Scannlain writes, "was wrong, very wrong -- wrong because reciting the Pledge of Allegiance is simply not 'a religious act' as the two-judge majority asserts, wrong as a matter of Supreme Court precedent properly understood, wrong because it set up a direct conflict with the law of another circuit, and wrong as a matter of common sense."
Clearly, the pledge is not a prayer. The fact it contains two words -- under God -- evoking the concept of religion doesn't make it a religious act.
Such an assertion, O'Scannlain continued, "belies common sense. Most assuredly, to pledge allegiance to flag and country is a patriotic act. After the public and political reaction last summer, it is difficult to believe that anyone can continue to think otherwise. The fact the Pledge is infused with an undoubtedly religious reference does not change the nature of the act itself."
A second salient point was made by Justice Ferdinand F. Fernandez, the dissenter in the initial decision:
"We are asked to hold that inclusion of the phrase 'under God' in this nation's Pledge of Allegiance violates the religion
clauses of the Constitution of the United States. We should do no such thing. We should, instead, recognize that those clauses were not designed to drive religious expression out of public thought; they were written to avoid discrimination."
The Bill of Rights is intended to protect the rights of the minority from being trampled by the majority. To say the name of God may not even be uttered in public schools goes beyond that concept, by imposing the will of the minority on the majority.
The court's ruling is not only wrong, very wrong, it encourages civil disobedience.
Schoolchildren, say what you believe. The country's foundation will hold longer with a pledge containing "under God" than without it.