A federal appeals court is being urged to uphold the constitutionality of the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance recited in New Hampshire schools.
More than 40 members of Congress and 80,000 Americans are calling on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit to uphold a lower court's decision that ruled the pledge should not be removed from the schools because it is an expression of patriotism, not religion.
"There is absolutely no legal reason to strike the words 'under God' from the pledge and reject this time-honored tradition," said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, which filed an amicus brief Wednesday with the First Circuit. "The fact is the federal district court understood the fact that there's no constitutional crisis in permitting public school students to voluntarily recite the pledge – an expression of patriotism."
"We're urging the appeals court to uphold the very sound decision reached by the federal district court."
ACLJ submitted the amicus brief – a document filed in a court from a party not directly involved in the case – in response to the Freedom From Religion Foundation's appeal. The FFRF is a group that promotes separation of church and state and educates the public about atheism, agnosticism and non-theism.
Last fall, Chief Judge Steven McAuliffe rejected an FFRF complaint after the court reviewed the phrase "under God' in the context of the rest of the pledge rather than in isolation, keeping with Supreme Court precedent.
The court declared, "The New Hampshire pledge statute has a secular legislative purpose. It was enacted to enhance instruction in the Nation's history, and foster a sense of patriotism. It's primary effect neither advances nor inhibits religion. It does not foster excessive government involvement with religion."
Backing ACLJ's latest amicus brief are 42 members of the 111th Congress, including Sens. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and James Inhofe (R-Okla.), and Reps. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Joseph Pitts (R-Pa.). More than 80,000 Americans have also signed on to ACLJ's Committee to Protect "Under God" in the pledge.
"These words (one Nation under God) echo the sentiments found in the Declaration of Independence and recognize the truth that our freedoms come from God," the amicus brief states. "These words were placed in the Pledge to reaffirm America's unique understanding of this truth. The United States is different from nations who recognize no higher authority than the State.
"While the First Amendment affords atheists freedom to disbelieve, it does not compel the federal judiciary to redact religious references in every area of public life to suit atheistic sensibilities."
The New Hampshire case comes just a month after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld the constitutionality of references to God in the pledge and on national currency.
Judge Carlos Bea of Appeals the Ninth Circuit decided, "the Pledge is an endorsement of our form of government, not of religion or any particular sect."
"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," Bea wrote in his opinion.