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ARE THE PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE AND NATIONAL MOTTO UNCONSTITUTIONAL?

Although not directly relating to the Christian faith, this article summarizes a 9th Circuit case that addressed the controversial issue of religious liberty and the boundary limits relating to the First Amendment Establishment Clause.

Ninth Circuit Federal Appeals Court upholds Constitutionality of the use of the word, “God,” in the Pledge of Allegiance and on United States Currency.

On March 11, 2010, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals published a decision which upheld the use of the words:

 “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance; and

 “In God We Trust” on U.S. currency and coins.

The Court held that the above phrases do not violate the principal of separation of church and state.

The legal challenges were brought in two separate cases by Sacramento atheist activist, Michael Newdow, who is a medical doctor (emergency room physician) and a California lawyer.  He claimed that the references to God disrespect his religious beliefs and violate the United States Constitution.   He has instigated numerous lawsuits in the past relating to the same or similar issues.

The Pledge case, Newdow v. Rio Linda Union School District, was decided by a 2 to 1 vote.

The currency (or national motto) case, Newdow v. LeFevre, was a unanimous decision.

Pledge of Allegiance Case

The U.S. Supreme Court  in Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971) held that, to be constitutional:

(1) the challenged governmental action must have a secular purpose;

(2) “its principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion”; and

(3) it “must not foster an excessive government entanglement with religion.”  

As the appeals court noted: "Not every mention of God or religion by our government or at the government's direction is a violation of the Establishment Clause."  Further, looking at the Pledge "as a whole," "[t]he recitation of the Pledge is designed to evoke feelings of patriotism, pride, and love of country, not of divine fulfillment or spiritual enlightenment."

The majority Court in the Pledge case wrote that “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.”  Its "ostensible and predominant purpose [is] to inspire patriotism."

The words, “under God,” refer to “historical and religious traditions of our country, not a personal affirmation through prayer or invocation that the speaker believes in God.”

The majority wrote that the pledge did not have the purpose or effect of endorsing religion.  Further, the Pledge of Allegiance does not require students to support or participate in religion or in a religious exercise.  Accordingly, students are not required to recite the pledge but may opt out of the exercise.

In God We Trust.

The same appellate court further upheld the inscription of the national motto “In God We Trust” (36 U.S.C. 186), on coins and currency.  The Court held that the words are not religious, but are ceremonial and patriotic.  The court cited as precedent its earlier decision in Aronow v. United States, which "held the national motto is of a “patriotic or ceremonial character,” has no “theological or ritualistic impact,” and does not constitute “governmental sponsorship of a religious exercise."

Conclusion

The Pledge of Allegiance and national motto reflect our nation's history and the values our nation was founded on.  Thus, a  growing number of court decisions, including these two cases decided by the liberal Ninth Circuit, have concluded that there's no constitutional violation created by the Pledge or the national motto.  

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March 2010 by Matthew B. Tozer

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