According to today's Asahi Shimbun, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals based in San Francisco ruled the Pledge of Allegiance, recited by school students throughout the United States, is unconstitutional because the words, "one nation under God" violates the separation of church and state. The Court ruled that schools cannot force children to recite the Pledge because, "A profession that we are a nation 'under God' is identical, for Establishment Clause purposes, to a profession that we are a nation 'under Jesus,' a nation 'under Vishnu,' a nation 'under Zeus,' or a nation 'under no god,' because none of these professions can be neutral with respect to religion."
In response to this, the U.S. Senate unanimously approved a resolution in support of the Pledge of Allegiance, and a group of House members recited it and sang "God Bless America" on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. And, in a statement to reporters, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said that President Bush had called the decision "ridiculous."
On the same day, International Herald Tribune ran a New York Times article on this subject. According to this, if this ruling is upheld, students in schools in the nine states (Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington) over which the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has jurisdiction, would be barred from reciting the pledge. Legal scholars, however, expect the ruling to be overturned.
This case was brought by Michael Newdow on behalf of his daughter who attends an elementary school in the suburbs outside the California state capitol, Sacramento. After a 1943 ruling by the Supreme Court, students have not been compelled to salute the flag, but Mr. Newdow claims that his daughter's rights were violated when she was compelled to "watch and listen as her state-employed teacher in her state-run school leads her classmates in a ritual proclaiming that there is a God, and that ours is 'one nation under God.'"
The article continues on saying that the words "under God" were approved by Congress in 1954, at the height of the Cold War, when Americans deluged Congress with mail supporting the change saying that the United States' pledge should be different from that of atheistic communist countries. The ruling touches upon this with the appellate court stating that the phrase can "reasonably be seen by atheists or believers in certain non-Judeo-Christian religions as an attempt 'to enforce a religious orthodoxy of monotheism", thereby violating the First Amendment.
The question arises, then, about "In God We Trust" which is on U.S. currency. To this, the Supreme Court stated in 1984 that "through years of repeated use, it has lost any religious context." Although it's been almost 50 years since the words "one nation under God" has been used in the pledge, it seems that the religious context has not been lost even after half a century. This is reasoning that's difficult to understand.
What concerns me more than anything else, however, is the fact that the word "God" is being used as a proper noun. It seems that the reason for opposing the use of the expression "one nation under God" in public schools is that, just as it is inappropriate to say a nation "under Jesus," or a nation "under Zeus," the country should not protect or enforce one particular religion. Which means then that they are equating "God" with "Jesus" or "Vishnu." Coming from jurists, this may be acceptable, but it would have been nice if they could have found a deeper, more sensitive reason.
In his book The Greatest Spiritual Secret of the Century, Thom Hartmann, writes, "Any attempt to envision a sentient god will create an anthropomorphic projection, a man-like god." He continues, "The Creator of the Universe is greater than any human can imagine or describe." When you think about it in those terms, since Jesus, Vishnu, and Zeus are all anthropomorphic projections of God born from each culture, one can say that they are equals as "manifestations." But since the "original" "God" of which they are a manifestation is the one and only absolute existence, all that exists is "under God." So, "one nation under God" means "God's nation." Pledging allegiance to this means, after all, pledging allegiance to "one nation under Jesus," and "one nation under Vishnu," and "one nation under Zeus." I'd like to explain it in these terms, but I wonder just how many people there are who would understand?
The majority of people think that this decision will be overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, but it will be interesting to see what reasons they give for their ruling.