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Overview On Pledge Of Allegiance Ruling

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    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 28, 2002
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      Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR)
      Friday, June 28, 2002


      In the immediate aftermath of an appeals court ruling that the Pledge of
      Allegiance was unconstitutional, nearly all the commentary in the
      country's leading newspapers criticized the decision. But some of the
      more alarmist arguments used to defend the phrase "under God" actually
      tended to support the judges' finding that including it in the Pledge is
      an impermissible government establishment of religion.

      Of the 10 largest-circulation dailies in the country, six had run
      editorials on the ruling as of June 28; all six attacked the decision.
      Editorialists called it "a fundamentally silly ruling" (L.A. Times
      (6/27/02) or an "addled opinion" (Wall Street Journal, 6/27/02). The New
      York Times (6/27/02) said it "lacks common sense," while the Washington
      Post (6/27/02) compared it to a "parody." The appeals court "went way
      overboard," in the opinion of Long Island Newsday; for the New York Daily
      News (6/27/02), "the sooner this decision is overturned, the better."

      Signed columns in the top papers had little more balance. Jeffrey Rosen
      in the New York Times (6/28/02) criticized the ruling's "polarizing
      vision." In the Washington Post (6/27/02), Marc Fisher criticized "a
      court steeped in the arrogance of political correctness."

      A column by the Chicago Tribune's John Kass (6/27/02) ran under the
      headline, "Ruling on Pledge Is a Slap in Face to All Americans." Marc
      Howard Wilson (Chicago Tribune, 6/28/02) called it "typical San Francisco
      lunacy" and "misguided grandstanding."

      In a twist, the L.A. Times (6/28/02) ran a feature by staff writer Martin
      Miller, who described himself as an atheist but attacked the non-believer
      whose lawsuit prompted the decision as "sullen, cantankerous and
      litigious...intolerant, pushy and self-righteous."

      Compared to these harsh attacks on the ruling, supporters were muted. The
      Washington Post's E.J. Dionne (6/28/02) mustered half a cheer for the
      decision in an op-ed headlined "Wrong for the Right Reasons." The Chicago
      Tribune's Eric Zorn (6/27/02) noted that he had criticized mandatory
      recitations of the Pledge in the past, and invited readers to view those
      columns on his website.

      Susan Jacoby in Newsday (6/28/02) narrowly endorsed the opinion as
      "entirely correct in constitutional terms," although she wished that the
      Pledge were "a more substantive issue." Libertarian conservative James
      Pinkerton (L.A. Times, 6/28/02) produced the most robust defense of the
      appeals court justices, praising their "historical wisdom" (although
      calling their ruling "poorly thought out").

      Though support for the court ruling was limited in the leading U.S.
      papers, the criticisms of the decision in some ways backed up the court's
      reasoning. Several critics adopted the position of the appeals court's
      dissenter, saying that "under God" is not an establishment of religion
      because it is a "rote civic exercise" (New York Times, 6/27/02), a
      "harmless civic recitation" (Newsday, 6/28/02) with "such a minimal
      religious effect" (New York Times, 6/28/02). "God's name is just a frill,
      a space-filler in the unthinking torrent of much daily conversation,"
      claimed Fisher in the Washington Post (6/27/02).

      But at the same time, many opponents of the decision warned that it could
      provoke a powerful, emotional response from believers. The New York Times
      (6/27/02) warned that it was "inviting a political backlash," whose
      effects Rosen spelled out in the paper the next day: "That ruling will
      almost certainly galvanize Republicans to push for the appointment of
      conservative judges who will seek to place religion in the center of
      public life." The Washington Post (6/27/02) noted that the ruling " can
      only serve to generate unnecessary political battles and create a
      fundraising bonanza for the many groups who will rush to its defense."

      Those are fairly serious consequences for the cessation of a "rote civic
      exercise." Indeed, the vitriolic attacks against the decision, and the
      warnings of what Christians and other monotheists might do if the Pledge
      were not maintained as is, bolstered the appeals court's finding that
      including "under God" was "not a mere acknowledgment that many Americans
      believe in a deity" or "merely descriptive of the undeniable historical
      significance of religion in the founding of the republic," but rather "an
      impermissible government endorsement of religion" that "sends a message to
      unbelievers 'that they are outsiders, not full members of the political
      community, and an accompanying message to adherents that they are
      insiders, favored members of the political community.'"

      Granted, some of the defenders stood up for the Pledge because of, rather
      than despite, its religious content. "The sentiment that this is a land
      blessed has been accepted since Pilgrim days," asserted the Daily News
      (6/27/02). The Tribune's Kass (6/27/02) wondered whether his children
      will be "jailed for having any dangerous and heretical beliefs, like a
      belief in God."

      The most disingenuous assertions in support of the Pledge status quo
      related to the purpose of adding "under God"-- an important constitutional
      question, since church/state separation questions typically hinge on the
      secular intent of governmental action.

      "The pledge, taken as a whole, was not intended to be a coercive prayer,
      but was designed to promote patriotism, and as such is consistent with the
      neutrality principle," wrote Rosen (New York Times, 6/28/02).
      Editorialized the Daily News (6/17/02): "The two words, viewed in the
      context of the entire pledge, have nothing whatsoever to do with avowing
      fealty to God."

      Yet if one can believe President Dwight Eisenhower, who signed the bill
      that added "under God" to the Pledge, that is precisely what altering the
      oath was meant to accomplish. "In this way we are reaffirming the
      transcendence of religious faith in America's heritage and future,"
      Eisenhower announced at the time (Columbus Dispatch, 6/28/02). "From this
      day forward, the millions of our schoolchildren will daily proclaim in
      every city and town, every village and every rural schoolhouse, the
      dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty."


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