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As They Said...

Congress has passed and the president has signed into a law a bill that includes the words "one Nation under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance.

That sentence could have been written in 1954, when Congress first added the phrase. But the measure cited above passed this October and was signed by President Bush on Nov. 13. The new law is meant to reaffirm the wording of the pledge after the controversial federal appeals court ruling in June that the addition of "under God" nearly half a century ago amounted to an unconstitutional government endorsement of "monotheism."

Politicians scrambled last summer to denounce the decision by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, in San Francisco. President Bush, members of Congress, and others found opportunities to publicly recite the pledge with gusto. (The 9th Circuit panel delayed the ruling's effect, pending further appeals, so schoolchildren in the nine Western states covered by that circuit may still recite the pledge.)

On Oct. 17, Congress gave final approval to a bill that reaffirms the language of the pledge, including the reference to God. The measure also reaffirms that "In God We Trust" is the national motto. The bill calls the 9th Circuit panel's ruling "erroneous." It provides a list of references to God in American historical documents, starting with the Mayflower Compact in 1620.

There is one small substantive change in the law. While the 1954 statute said that men not in uniform "should remove their headdress" when reciting the pledge, the new law says such men "should remove any nonreligious headdress."

Mr. Bush signed the measure without public comment or fanfare. No schoolchildren gathered around him at a desk. He made no appearance before a White House "message of the day" graphic background. Only a brief written announcement from a deputy press secretary marked the event. And the White House press office did not return a call last week seeking comment.

Despite the restatement of the wording, the judicial branch will have the final say. A larger panel of the 9th Circuit court is deciding whether to rehear the case.

Some experts believe a complicated family-court situation involving Michael Newdow, the California doctor who challenged the pledge on behalf of his noncustodial daughter, could give the court a procedural way to vacate the unpopular ruling and dismiss the case.

—Mark Walsh

Vol. 22, Issue 13, Page 20

Published in Print: November 27, 2002, as Federal File

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