Politics fuels controversy in Pledge decision

By Linda Deutsch, The Associated Press
Thursday July 18, 2002

CORONADO — When a plane trailing a banner declaring “One Nation Under God” flew over the home of an appellate judge and demonstrators surrounded the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal, the two jurists who sparked the reaction were surprised. 

“It’s the noisiest thing I’ve ever experienced,” said Circuit Judge Alfred T. Goodwin who, with his colleague, Circuit Judge Stephen Reinhardt, heard plenty of feedback about their Pledge of Allegiance decision at this week’s annual 9th Circuit conference. 

“I think it’s a bit excessive,” said Reinhardt, who was at his office last Saturday when he heard about crowds of demonstrators and a plane with a banner flying over his home. 

Reinhardt quipped that the controversy may be more heated because “It’s the middle of the summer and there are no scandals.” 

But he and Goodwin said that politics, notably the upcoming congressional elections, are fueling the controversy. 

“I can’t think of any decision where the entire Congress immediately rushes to condemn a decision by the court,” Reinhardt said. “It’s getting to be election time and this gives everyone in Congress a chance to prove they are patriotic.” 

Goodwin noted that, “The climate of public opinion is different after 9/11. There’s anxiety. There’s fear and it’s an even numbered year so you have a political reality.” 

Goodwin, who wrote the decision, said criticism also was exacerbated by misleading news reports. 

“The first sound bites that went out said the court had ruled the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional, which it didn’t,” said Goodwin. He said the only thing ruled unconstitutional was the phrase “one nation under God” being required during recitations in schools by school children. 

The lawsuit that brought the decision was filed by a California atheist, Michael Newdow, who did not want his second-grade daughter to be forced to listen to the pledge. the 2-1 decision held that the phrase amounts to a government endorsement of religion. The words “under God” were inserted by Congress in 1954 after a campaign by the Knights of Columbus, a Roman Catholic organization. 

The dissenting judge on the pledge decision, Ferdinand Fernandez, did not attend the gathering of the nation’s largest circuit court which drew hundreds of jurists. 

The 78-year-old Goodwin noted that when he learned the pledge, the phrase “under God” was not included and until the case was brought before the court, “I can’t recall giving it much thought.”