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Pledge ruling has critics

June 28, 2002|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Tri-State area residents, lawmakers and community leaders questioned Thursday said they shared the sentiment of President Bush after hearing of a court panel's ruling that it was unconstitutional for schoolchildren to recite the Pledge of Allegiance: It's ridiculous.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Franciso on Wednesday issued a ruling that said the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance violates the separation of church and state.

On Thursday, Circuit Judge Alfred T. Goodwin, who wrote the 2-1 decision, stayed the ruling until other members of the court can decide whether to change course. The case could be reheard by the same three judges or by 11 judges. Under court rules, the decision already was on hold for 45 days to allow for challenges.

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The Ninth Circuit covers Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.

"We need some new judges," Funkstown Mayor Robert Kline said. "It is really ridiculous. I hope the Supreme Court does something or they aren't a lot of good either."

"My first reaction was that I would expect that coming out of California and San Francisco," Washington County Commissioner William Wivell said. "I just think the whole thing is ridiculous."

"I was absolutely horrified," said Maureen Ferguson, 56, of Hagerstown. "Especially after 9-11. It makes God so much more important to anyone in the world."

Ferguson said she does not think the ruling will stand.

"It's on our coins .... Congress opens up with prayer to God," Ferguson said. "The president takes his oath pledging allegiance to God and country."

Carol McNew, of Chambersburg, Pa., said she was "appalled" by the court ruling.

"I can't believe they would allow something like this to happen," she said. "I was tickled to see the members of Congress stand together and say the pledge" Thursday morning.

U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said she was outraged.

"Our Pledge of Allegiance is comprised of words of honor and loyalty that uphold the spirit of America's Constitution, not violate it," Capito said in a written statement. "I hope that this ruling will be challenged, as I believe it to be utterly un-American."

U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., called the decision ludicrous.

"Every one of our nation's founders is turning over in their graves," Bartlett said in a written statement. "By the twisted and insane logic of the Appeals Court decision, there is only one kind of freedom of speech the First Amendment no longer protects: That is prayer."

Dennis Fuller of Hagerstown said he thought atheists are trying to force their beliefs upon those who believe in God.

"I think it's a stupid decision," Fuller, 56, said. "I couldn't believe it at first. We still have a lot of liberal judges in the system."

Eugene Gayman, president of the Chambersburg, (Pa.) Area School Board, opened the board's meeting Wednesday night by condemning the court decision.

He then asked the School Board and audience to "join me proudly in saying the Pledge of Allegiance."

Washington County School Board President Edward Forrest said he saw the ruling as "just another example of political correctness going awry in the United States."

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., said she voted for a resolution on Wednesday calling on the Senate Legal Counsel to defend the pledge.

"We are a nation at war," she said in a written statement. "We must stand as one nation under God. I support separation of church and state, but as a nation we must not be divided."

Betty Jo Benton, of Hedgesville, W.Va., said she couldn't believe such a ruling came out at a time when patriotism is so strong in the country.

"When I heard that, I was so flabbergasted. That's so wrong," said Benton, 47.

Sue Greenfield couldn't believe such a long-standing tradition was being questioned.

"My mother made me say it when I was a kid. I think everyone should have to do it," said Greenfield, 45, of Shanghai, W.Va.

"I think it is absolutely horrible they made that ruling," said Becky Shenk, of Shippensburg, Pa. "Personally, I don't think there is anything wrong with having God in school," she said.

Zoa Knapp, of Fayetteville, Pa., agreed.

"They never should have taken (religion) out of schools," she said.

"If the atheists don't want to say the Pledge of Allegiance, they should just sit down and let everybody else say it," said Karen Stout, 42, of Hagerstown.

Terry Ditch, of Chambersburg, said he, his children and now his grandchildren have all recited the Pledge of Allegiance in school.

"We inherited it," he said. "I'm a firm believer prayer should be in school. I don't believe kids would be as bad if it was."

Ditch said he was incredulous with how the issue reached the court.

"It's amazing one person can come up with something and stirs all of this up," he said.

Staff writers Stacey Danzuso and Dave McMillion and The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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