Hiding Behind 'Patriotism,' Pouting Catholics Advocate Violating Law To Retain McCarthy Era Religious Pledge

After Latest Pledge Ruling, Catholic Group Calls for Civil Disobedience

from Religion News Service

A conservative Catholic watchdog group is urging California teachers to disobey an anticipated ban on public school recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.

Judge Lawrence K. Karlton of the U.S. District Court in Sacramento ruled Wednesday that he was bound by a 2002 appeals court ruling that "the pledge is an unconstitutional violation of the children's right to be free from a coercive requirement to affirm God." Karlton declared that he would issue a restraining order for four California school districts to prevent them from reciting the pledge after he receives appropriate legal documents.

"The time has come for patriotic teachers in those schools to practice civil disobedience," said William Donohue, president of the New York-based Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. "They need to lead their students in the pledge, bellowing the dreaded words `under God.'"

Additional conservative Christian groups joined the Catholic League in criticizing the Sacramento judge's decision. The American Family Association said it was "simply wrong" and Traditional Values Coalition Chairman Louis Sheldon described it as the "latest outrage."

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said: "If the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional, then so is the recitation or study of the Declaration of Independence and every other historical document or inscription that recognizes the fact that this country was founded upon religious principles."

But groups in favor of church-state separation took a different view.

"America is a very diverse nation," said Ayesha Khan, legal director of the Washington-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "We have some 2,000 different denominations and faith groups, as well as many Americans who choose no religious path at all. It is wrong for public schools to ask students to affirm a religious belief in order to express their patriotism."

The Council for Secular Humanism agreed, calling it "a victory for the Constitution."

The Washington-based Becket Fund for Religious Liberty has announced plans to appeal the case. The Catholic fraternal organization played a key role in the insertion of the words "under God" in the pledge in 1954.

On the same day as the California ruling, a Virginia man decided not to appeal a similar case.

In August, the 4th U.S. Circuit of Appeals ruled against Edward R. Myers, who had sued the Loudoun County (Va.) Public Schools, claiming its mandatory recitation of the pledge promoted "God and country" religiosity. He could have appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court but said on his Web site Wednesday that he has dropped the suit. "Myers is content not to appeal to the Supreme Court since he has already achieved his objective," according to the statement. "It is very important to legally document that there are Christian sects who have a long American history objecting to recitation of the pledge. If the state insists that we endure indoctrination of God and country theology in public schools, Myers feels he has done his duty to testify against this injustice."


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