(CN) – References to God on U.S. money and in the Pledge of Allegiance do not violate the Constitution’s separation of church and state, the 9th Circuit ruled Thursday.
In separate rulings, the court weighed in on the phrase “In God We Trust” inscribed on U.S. currency and the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance recited at public schools, ruling that neither is a government endorsement of religion and both represent patriotism.
“The Pledge of Allegiance serves to unite our vast nation through the proud recitation of some of the ideals upon which our Republic was founded and for which we continue to strive: one Nation under God – the Founding Fathers’ belief that the people of this nation are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights,” Judge Carlos Bea wrote for the 2-1 majority.
Prominent attorney and atheist Dr. Michael Newdow filed both lawsuits, and parents in the Sacramento area joined his challenge of the teacher-led Pledge of Allegiance in public schools across the West.
As the minister and founder of the First Amendmist Church of True Science, Newdow brought his currency dispute to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2004, but the justices dismissed that appeal on technical grounds. They said he lacked standing to file suit on behalf of his school-aged daughter. He then recruited other parents and tried again.
The 9th Circuit, which had previously agreed with Newdow and other atheist parents in 2002, reviewed the current pledge appeal to determine if the words “under God” represented patriotic tradition or pushed a deeply ingrained religious message.
Both lawsuits claimed that references to God on money and in classrooms violate the Constitution’s Establishment Clause, which mandates the separation of church and state.
The San Francisco-based appellate panel upheld the district court’s dismissal of the currency case because Newdow failed to “state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” The injuries he claimed to have suffered because of the “national motto,” “In God We Trust,” don’t confer standing because they can’t be traced back to the government, the panel ruled.
Similarly, a 2-1 majority concluded that the pledge does not violate the Constitution, and “it does not mandate that anyone say it.” Children who do not wish to recite it are allowed to either sit it out or omit words they don’t want to say.
“We hold that the Pledge of Allegiance does not violate the Establishment Clause because Congress’ ostensible and predominant purpose was to inspire patriotism and that the context of the Pledge – its wording as a whole, the preamble to the statute and this nation’s history – demonstrate that it is a predominantly patriotic exercise,” Judge Bea wrote.
Judge Stephen Reinhardt, dissenting from the majority’s position on the pledge, argued that “carrying out such an indoctrination in a public school classroom unconstitutionally forces many young children either to profess a religious belief antithetical to their personal views or to declare themselves through their silence or nonparticipation to be protesting nonbelievers, thereby subjecting themselves to hostility and ridicule.”