NEW YORK--Today a federal appeals court in California ruled that the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance is an unconstitutional endorsement of religion and cannot be recited in schools.
The case was brought by a California man on behalf of his daughter without the involvement of the American Civil Liberties Union. However, we believe the court's finding was correct and is consistent with recent Supreme Court rulings invalidating prayer at school events.
As today's decision recognizes, the United States, with more than 1,500 different religious bodies and 360,000 churches, mosques and synagogues, is the most religiously diverse nation in the world because of, not in spite of, the fact that we do not allow government to become entangled with religion.
Specifically, the court said, "a profession that we are a nation 'under God' is identical, for Establishment Clause purposes, 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." The court added that the coercive effect of this policy is "particularly pronounced in the school setting given the age and impressionability of school children."
Schools can and should teach tolerance and good citizenship, but must not favor one religion over another or belief over non-belief. To do otherwise would, in the words of Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, "send a message to nonadherents that they are outsiders, not full members of the …community."