Judge puts his Pledge of Allegiance ruling on hold

By David Kravets, The Associated Press
Friday June 28, 2002

SAN FRANCISCO — A day after he shocked the nation by declaring the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional, a federal appeals court judge Thursday blocked his ruling from being enforced. Meanwhile, Attorney General John Ashcroft said the Justice Department plans to seek a rehearing. 

Judge Alfred T. Goodwin, who authored the 2-1 opinion that the phrase “under God” crossed the line between church and state, stayed his decision — preventing it from taking effect until the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decides whether it wants to alter course. 

The appeals court can rehear the case with the same three judges, or an 11-judge panel. It has often overturned controversial three-judge opinions. Goodwin’s latest action has no immediate impact, since the ruling already was on hold by court rules for 45 days to allow for any challenges. 

Goodwin’s latest ruling does not overturn the decision, but places it in a permanent state of suspended animation until the court decides otherwise. 

Ashcroft said Thursday the Justice Department will request a hearing by an 11-judge panel. As of Thursday afternoon, court clerk Cathy Catterson said no petitions for rehearing had been submitted. 

Vikram Amar, a Hastings College of the Law scholar who closely follows the appeals court, said the latest ruling means that, for now, Wednesday’s opinion finding the pledge unconstitutional “has no legal force or effect.” 

“They’re acknowledging the likelihood that the whole 9th Circuit may take a look at this,” Amar said. 

Goodwin’s original ruling sparked outrage across the political spectrum by ruling it is unconstitutional for schoolchildren to recite — or even be forced to listen to — the Pledge of Allegiance. 

Legal scholars immediately said the ruling likely would be overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, if not reversed beforehand by the 9th Circuit. 

“I would bet an awful lot on that,” said Harvard University scholar Laurence Tribe. 

Wednesday’s ruling was in response to a California atheist’s bid to keep his second-grade daughter from being exposed to religion in school. 

Goodwin said leading schoolchildren in a pledge that says the United States is “one nation under God” is as objectionable as making them say “we are a nation ‘under Jesus,’ a nation ‘under Vishnu,’ a nation ‘under Zeus,’ or a nation ‘under no god,’ because none of these professions can be neutral with respect to religion.” 

The decision was met with widespread criticism. 

President Bush found the ruling “ridiculous,” saying Thursday it was “out of step with the traditions and history of America” as he promised to appoint “commonsense judges who understand that our rights were derived from God.”