SAN FRANCISCO The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance and "In God We Trust" on U.S. currency does not violate the constitution.
In a 2-1 ruling released March 11, the San Francisco court rejected arguments by atheist Michael Newdow that the phrase "under God" amounted to an unconstitutional government establishment of religion.
The decision was a turnabout for the court, which in 2002 sided with Newdow in a decision that was derided across the country. The U.S. Congress was so incensed that many of its members gathered on the steps of the nation's capitol and recited the pledge using the challenged phrase.
The decision was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which sidestepped the constitutional question when it tossed out the case saying Newdow did not have legal standing to file the case since was a non-custodial parent of a public school child.
Newdow refiled the suit in 2005 along with other parents within the Rio Linda Union School District in California, giving him legal standing.
"We are pleased that the 9th Circuit recognized that and dismissed the misguided efforts to rewrite history and alter the character of our nation through judicial fiat," said Penny Young Nance, CEO of Concerned Women for America.
Judge Carlos T. Bea, who wrote for the majority in the 60-page pledge ruling, said that the founders "believed that the people derive their most important rights, not from government, but from God." He pointed to the Declaration of Independence as an example.
"The Pledge of Allegiance serves to unite our vast nation through the proud recitation of some of the ideals upon which our republic was founded and for which we continue to strive: one nation under Godthe Founding Fathers' belief that the people of this nation are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights," Bea wrote, citing various phrases in the pledge.
Citing Supreme Court precedent on Ten Commandments monuments, the majority said it is constitutional for children to cite the pledge with the "under God" reference because the phrase is just two words surrounded by words whose focus is not religious. The focus of the pledge is patriotic, the court said.
"We hold that the Pledge of Allegiance does not violate the Establishment Clause because Congress' ostensible and predominant purpose was to inspire patriotism and that the context of the pledgeits wording as a whole, the preamble to the statute, and this nation's historydemonstrate that it is a predominantly patriotic exercise," Bea wrote. "... If the pledge were solely: 'We are under God's rule,' would it make a difference? It would. There would be an argument that this was nothing more than a prayer."
Students, the court noted, are not required to say the pledge and can remain silent.
"What is at issue is whether (the plaintiffs) can prevent other students, who have no such objection, from saying the pledge," Bea wrote.
In a separate 3-0 ruling the court upheld the use of the national motto "In God We Trust" on U.S. currency rejecting another suit filed by Newdow.
The court found that Newdow's claim that the national motto violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act did not have merit.
"In God We Trust" made its first appearance on U.S. currency in 1865, when Congress passed an act placing the phrase on all coins. The motto has been used on all United States paper money since 1957. The constitutionality of the motto was challenged in 1970 in Aronow v. United States, but the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals determined that the phrase "has nothing whatsoever to do with the establishment of religion."
In 1979, atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair unsuccessfully challenged the motto in the case of O'Hair v. Blumenthal.
"The words 'In God We Trust' are part of our American heritage. Mr. Newdow's baseless lawsuits have wasted thousands of dollars of the taxpayers' money," said Mathew Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel. "A public acknowledgement of God is not an establishment of religion."
Mario Diaz, Esq., CWA's policy director for legal issues, said, "Even the most activist and most-overturned court in the country managed to recognize that there is no basis in history or in law that would require the removal of the words 'under God' from the Pledge of Allegiance."
The 9th Circuit's ruling covers Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.
BP news was used in this report.