Way to Go!
- By JESSE J. HOLLAND
.c The Associated Press
WASHINGTON (June 27) - In an extraordinary show of defiance, virtually the entire Senate showed up for a morning prayer Thursday, heads bowed behind their desks, to affirm that the United State is ''one nation under God,'' after a federal appeals court declared the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional.
Moments later, a nearly full House gathered to recite the pledge, with some shouting ''under God.'' They followed with a sustained standing ovation, and a few House members joined hands to sing the first line of ''God Bless America.''
Both houses of Congress start each working day with the pledge, but typically only a few lawmakers are in the chambers to recite it.
''We acknowledge the separation of sectarianism and state, but affirm the belief that there is no separation between God and state,'' Senate Chaplain Lloyd Ogilvie said in the morning prayer.
The Senate floor and partly filled visitors galleries were hushed as Ogilvie proclaimed that ''we are one Senate, united under You, to lead a nation that is free to say confidently, 'In God we trust.'''
House members, who rushed to steps in front of the Capitol on Wednesday to recite the Pledge of Allegiance immediately after the court's decision, planned to pass a resolution later Thursday condemning the ruling.
President Bush denounced the ruling as ''out of step with the traditions and history of America.'' He promised to appoint judges who would overturn such rulings.
''America is a nation ... that values our relationship with the Almighty,'' Bush told reporters. ''We need commonsense judges who understand that our rights were derived from God.''
In calling the Senate to order, its president pro tempore, Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., said Ogilvie would lead ''the prayer to almighty God, the supreme judge of the world.''
''We are one nation under God. We affirmed that today as Americans, not as Republicans or Democrats, and we did so proudly,'' said Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., who on Wednesday called the court's decision ''nuts.''
''What's next?'' Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., asked Thursday. ''Will our courts, in their zeal to abolish all religious faith from public arenas, outlaw 'God Bless America' too?''
The House began reciting the pledge in 1988, and the Senate in 1999.
A 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel ruled Wednesday that the use of the words ''under God'' violates the Constitution's clause barring establishment of religion. The ruling, if allowed to stand, would bar schoolchildren from reciting the pledge in the nine Western states covered by the court.
Less than four hours later, senators passed a resolution denouncing the court's decision, which came in a lawsuit filed by a California father who objected to his daughter's being compelled to listen to her second-grade classmates recite the pledge.
''I think we need to send a clear message that the Congress disagrees, the Congress is going to intervene, the Congress is going to do all that it can do to live up to the expectations of the American people,'' Daschle said.
Other lawmakers, including Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., a potential 2004 presidential candidate, called for a constitutional amendment to make sure the words stay in the pledge.
''There may have been a more senseless, ridiculous decision issued by a court at some time, but I don't remember it,'' Lieberman said.
If Wednesday's ruling is not overturned by the full 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court probably will review the case next year, constitutional scholars said.
The decision was written by Judge Alfred T. Goodwin, whom Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., called an ''atheist lawyer.''
''I hope his name never comes before this body for any promotion, because he will be remembered,'' Byrd said.
The 9th Circuit Court is known as the most liberal appeals court in the nation. Democrats and Republicans have been fighting all year over the pace of the Senate's confirmation of Bush's conservative judicial nominations.
Democrats pointed out that it was a Republican, President Nixon, who appointed Goodwin to the appeals court in 1971.