Taking the Pledge

The furor is now dying down from the Ninth Circuit's incredibly ill-timed decision that the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag is unconstitutional. I say "ill-timed" because this is, after all, the week when we celebrate our Declaration of Independence and, in case the court didn't notice, there is a war going on. Any judge who's aware that we live in the United States of America would not have been surprised at the public outrage. The two-to-one decision threatened to create massive civil disobedience or even an insurrection, so the judge who wrote the decision issued the next day a stay until the full court can hear the case -- which only proves, after all, something I've always argued: Judges carefully read political tea leaves. But neither the decision nor its timing was any real surprise. I don't want to impugn the motives of honorable judges, but I wonder if this wasn't a deliberate, in-your-face to us religious folks. You only have to look at who participated in this decision to understand why I say that. One part of the two-judge majority was Stephen Reinhardt, who, in 1996, writing a decision overturning a Washington state referendum banning assisted suicide, singled out for condemnation "those with strong moral or religious convictions . . . They are not free to force their views, their religious convictions, or their philosophies on all of the members of the democratic society." What? Are only those without "strong moral or religious convictions" allowed to participate in the political process? This was, after all, a referendum. Was it unconstitutional that people with religious and moral convictions voted? It's an outrage that a judge, with such an anti-religion mindset, isn't called to account. Any judge who shows this kind of obvious bias should certainly recuse himself from participating in a decision involving the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. The fact is, Reinhardt has been an activist for many years in various liberal causes in the San Francisco Bay area. You see, courts do reflect the culture they live in. So maybe the Congress ought to move the Ninth Circuit to, say Medford, Oregon, just as, a few years ago, I jestingly suggested we move the U.S. Supreme Court to Dubuque, Iowa, where, compared to Washington, D.C., people tend to reflect the general good common sense of the American people. But be of good cheer. The full court in the Ninth Circuit will hear this case in the months ahead, and there's not -- if you'll excuse the expression -- a prayer that they will buck the public tide. And you can also be of good cheer for a couple of bright spots. First, note how Senators Daschle and Leahy rushed to denounce the Pledge of Allegiance decision. These are the very Senators who are blocking confirmation of Bush's judges. If the controversy continues, they will be exposed as hypocrites of the first order -- decrying what liberal judges do, while blocking the confirmation of conservatives. Second, the U.S. Supreme Court last week ruled that vouchers for secular and religious schools are constitutional. This is a huge breakthrough for religion in public life and for education -- which is why, in the next few days, you'll hear me talking about religion in public schools. This decision could do much to reform our nation's schools. So on the Fourth of July go ahead: Recite the pledge as written and rejoice. The people, not the courts, still govern America. For further information: Michael Novak, On Two Wings: Humble Faith and Common Sense at the American Founding (Encounter, 2002). David Von Drehle, "Judge Blocks Pledge Decision During Appeals," The Washington Post, 28 June 2002. You can read Judge Stephen Reinhardt's remarks in the Compassion in Dying v. Washington case (6 March 1996) here.


Chuck Colson


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