Justice Department Calls for Appeal on Pledge of Allegiance Case

May 08, 2003 01:58 PM EDT

WASHINGTON -- The United States Justice Department urged the Supreme Court to overturn a ruling that declared the Pledge of Allegiance a violation of church-state separation, April 30. The Department asked the justices to review the federal appeals court decision and to strike it down, contending that the recitation of the pledge does not violate the First Amendment ban on government establishment of religion.

"Whatever else the establishment clause may prohibit, this court's precedents make clear that it does not forbid the government from officially acknowledging the religious heritage, foundation and character of this nation," the petition said. "That is what the reference to God in the Pledge of Allegiance does."

The petition added that the ruling be reversed without oral arguments because the appeals court's opinion is so "manifestly contrary to precedent."

Attorney General John Ashcroft in supporting the petition, commented, "As the court has ruled again and again, our government and people can acknowledge the important role religion has played in America's foundation, history and character. The Justice Department will vigorously defend our nation's heritage and our children's ability to recite the pledge."

If the petition pulls through, the case will be reevaluated in the next term which begins in October.

The case had carried on since last summer in which the pledge’s inclusion of “under God” was seen as a violation of the establishment of the cause. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a revised opinion in February in which it affirmed the decision, and announced that it would not rehear the case as an 11-member panel, as had been requested.

The divided three-judge panel issued an amended opinion that basically maintained the central holding in the case but tightened its scope. The revised decision did not strike down a 1954 federal law adding "under God" to the pledge, as its June ruling had. Instead, the amended opinion banned classroom recitations of the pledge.

The decision of the Ninth Circuit Court, located in San Francisco, affects the nine Western states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.

By Pauline J.