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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Pledge of Allegiance Ruled Illegal

WASHINGTON -- The Pledge of Allegiance, recited by millions of American children at the start of each school day, is unconstitutional because it describes the United States as "one Nation, under God," a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled 2-1 that the reference to God, which was added to the pledge by Congress in 1954, amounts to an official endorsement of monotheism. Thus, the San Francisco-based court said, both the 1954 law and a California school district policy requiring teachers to lead children in the pledge violate the First Amendment prohibition against the establishment of a state religion.

If the ruling is allowed to stand, schoolchildren could no longer recite the pledge, at least in the nine Western states covered by the court.

"A profession that we are a nation 'under God' is identical ... to a profession that 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," Judge Alfred Goodwin wrote.

The case was brought by Michael Newdow, a Sacramento atheist who did not want his daughter to have to recite the pledge in her second-grade class in the Elk Grove school district.

On Wednesday, President George W. Bush led politicians of both parties in a chorus of denunciation, saying through spokesman Ari Fleischer that the court's decision was "ridiculous."

Fleischer said the Justice Department was considering "how to seek redress."

Goodwin said the ruling was the logical extension of Supreme Court cases prohibiting organized prayer in schools.

Under these precedents, Goodwin wrote, the officially sponsored recitation of the phrase "under God," added at the height of the Cold War for the express purpose of distinguishing American values from the atheistic norms of the Soviet Union, amounted not only to state endorsement of religion, but also a subtle form of coercion over elementary school students.