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Pa. vets' group posts pledge in prominent place

July 25, 2002|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

"Under God" may be unconstitutional in the Pledge of Allegiance in the western United States, but it's prominent - and public - in Greencastle.

Harry D. Zeigler Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6319 dedicated a stone monument Wednesday night to the Pledge on the post's lawn at the corner of South Washington and Leitersburg streets.

On the monument, the entire Pledge of Allegiance - including "under God," which Congress added in 1954 - is carved in stone.

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Before reading a prepared speech, Post Commander Jason Sheller told the crowd of about 40 people that the monument was planned before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the phrase "under God" doesn't belong.

An atheist in California challenged the clause. He said his daughter shouldn't have 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 ...," according to the Court of Appeals' decision.

This violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits the government from endorsing or preferring a religion, the father alleged.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit agreed.

Judge Alfred T. Goodwin wrote in a June 26 majority opinion, "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 a decision of partial dissent, Judge Ferdinand F. Fernandez wrote, "[S]uch phrases as 'In God We Trust' or 'under God' have no tendency to establish a religion in this country or to suppress anyone's exercise, or non-exercise, of religion, except in the fevered eye of persons who most fervently would like to drive all tincture of religion out of the public life of our polity."

The three-member panel of the appeals court stayed its own decision, which only affects the western United States. Many expect an appeal to a larger panel of the court.

VFW members hardly acknowledged the decision during Wednesday's brief ceremony, but criticized it afterwards.

"The judicial system really let us down," said Sheller, who took over as post commander on July 14. "The term 'God' is a general term. It covers a lot of religions."

Because of the furor over the court decision, Sheller said, the ceremony was advertised a little more and Greencastle Mayor Robert "Red" Pensinger was invited.

"When it says 'under God,' it doesn't matter whose God," said Jesus E. Gonzalez, the immediate past commander.

All religions have their own god, he said.

Asked if this excludes atheists, Gonzalez said, "When you're dying and stuff, you'll find out (about God) real quick. There's a whole lot of atheists who change their mind."

Gonzalez said he and VFW quartermaster Carroll Freshman thought up the Pledge monument about two or three months ago, when the post moved its flags from poles attached to the building to poles planted in the ground.

Ken Gilland of Gilland Memorial Works in Blue Ridge Summit, Pa., donated the monument, which would have cost $1,489.

"I was just glad we was able to do something to help the post," said Gilland, a life member of William Max McLaughlin VFW Post 695 in Waynesboro, Pa.

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