The following editorial appeared in Thursday's Washington Post:
WASHINGTON -- In the many battles over how high the church-state wall should be, there has always been a certain category of official invocations of God that has gone untouched. Legislative prayer has been upheld by the Supreme Court, for example. Court sessions begin by asking that "God save this honorable court." America's national motto says "In God We Trust." And the Pledge of Allegiance, since 1954, has described this country as "One nation under God, indivisible." At least it did until Wednesday -- when a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the words "under God" as an establishment of religion in violation of the First Amendment.
If the court were writing a parody, rather than deciding an actual case, it could hardly have produced a more provocative holding than striking down the Pledge of Allegiance while this country is at war. We believe in strict separation between church and state, but the pledge is hardly a particular danger spot crying out for judicial policing. And having a court strike it down can only serve to generate unnecessary political battles and create a fund-raising bonanza for the many groups who will rush to its defense. Oh, yes, it can also invite a reversal, and that could mean establishing a precedent that sanctions a broader range of official religious expression than the pledge itself.
As Judge Ferdinand Fernandez pointed out in dissent, the establishment clause tolerates quite a few instances of "ceremonial deism": Is it OK to sing "God Bless America" or "America the Beautiful" at official events? Is American currency unconstitutional? The answer must be, as Judge Fernandez argues, that in certain expressions "it is obvious that (the) tendency to establish religion in this country or to interfere with the free exercise (or non-exercise) of religion is de minimis." Amen.
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