Is the Pledge of Allegiance Religious?

ByABC News
June 26, 2002, 8:11 PM

June 27 -- When schoolchildren swear allegiance to "one nation, under God," is it purely a patriotic ritual, or also an endorsement of religious belief?

By a two-to-one majority, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco decided Wednesday that those words in the Pledge of Allegiance constitute an official endorsement of Deism the belief in a single God.

The judge who wrote the opinion, Alfred T. Goodwin, today stayed the ruling, preventing it from being enforced until the 9th U.S. Circuit Court decides whether it wants to alter course.

"In the context of the Pledge, the statement that the United States is a nation "under God" is an endorsement of religion," the court wrote in Wednesday's decision. "It is a profession of a religious belief, namely, a belief in monotheism."

That violates the Constitutional separation between church and state, the court ruled, meaning the Pledge in its current form cannot be recited officially in public schools or government offices.

Reaction among legal experts was mixed, but many predicted the matter would ultimately be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. Several scholars, such as UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, said the ruling was surprising, but appeared to be a reasonable interpretation of case law.

"I think the decision is a plausible application of the court's case law," Volokh said. "It says: Look, this seems to endorse religious belief. After all the pledge is supposed to endorse patriotism. If the pledge of allegiance is to be taken seriously then so is the 'under God.'"

Jamin Raskin, a law professor at American University, said "the case is going to have an explosive effect on public opinion but from the legal perspective, I think it's firmly rooted in the logic of prior cases."

Is the Pledge Ceremonial Deism?

The courts have long recognized that some phrases that refer to God are not actually endorsements of religious belief. Many scholars cite the example of 'In God We Trust' on U.S. currency, or references to God in many state constitutions.