Justice Department Says It Will Request Full Appeals Court Hearing On Pledge Ruling

By CHRISTOPHER NEWTON, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Justice Department will request a full hearing by the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals on the decision that reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools is unconstitutional, Attorney General John Ashcroft said Thursday.

Circuit Judge Alfred T. Goodwin had already decided to stay his ruling until fellow members of the appeals court decide whether to reconsider the case. Goodwin wrote the 2-1 opinion by a court panel that said the phrase "under God" violated the Constitution.

Ashcroft said, "The Justice Department will defend the ability of our nation's children to pledge allegiance to the American flag, by requesting a hearing en banc by the full 9th Circuit."

Goodwin's decision and Ashcroft's request mean that all present judges on the 9th Circuit will likely consider the case again. The first ruling was handed down by three judges.

Virtually the entire Senate showed up for a morning prayer Thursday, heads bowed as they stood at their desks, to affirm that the United States is "one nation under God."

A nearly full House gathered for an enthusiastic recitation of the pledge, and later passed, 416-3, a resolution protesting Wednesday's decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

President Bush denounced the court ruling as "out of step with the traditions and history of America."

The House action came the day after a similar resolution was approved in the Senate. Lawmakers in both chambers -- and both parties -- bitterly condemned the court ruling handed down in California.

"This absurd decision was made by a court run amok," said House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas. "This Congress is not going to let anyone strip our nation of our proud heritage -- not now, not ever."

Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., asked, "What's next, a court ruling taking 'In God we trust' off the money? Or how about banning the performance of 'God Bless America' for Fourth of July celebrations?"

Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., who opposed the resolution, said that although he believes the pledge in schools should be found constitutional, the issue is best left to the courts.

"The only thing worse than the decision is the spectacle of members of the United States House of Representatives putting aside discussion of prescription drugs for Medicare to take up this resolution," Scott said.

Reps. Pete Stark and Michael Honda, both California Democrats, cast the other two "no" votes. Eleven Democrats voted simply "present."

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 Thursday's morning prayer.

The Senate floor and partly filled visitors galleries were hushed as Ogilvie proclaimed, "We are one Senate, united under you, to lead a nation that is free to say confidently, 'In God we trust.'"

While in Canada for an economic summit, Bush 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."

"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."

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.

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 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.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)