The decision was such a howler that even many of those whose mouths usually foam decided to cringe instead. Not one U.S. senator could be found to support the ruling. Tom Daschle announced it was "nuts." Even the hyper-separationist New York Times said it was "rigid." This is like Greenpeace coming out in favor of slaughtering more whales. After this reaction, the court put its decision on hold. The case may be reassessed by the same three judges or by an ll-judge panel.
Much of the reaction comes from narrow political calculation. The court ruling obviously could help Republican candidates and judicial nominees. This is especially so since it recalls the political hay that the first George Bush made in 1988 by attacking Michael Dukakis' card-carrying ACLU membership. At the white-hot center of the ACLU flap were the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Republicans created an explosive issue by tying Dukakis to ACLU National Policy Number 84: "The insertion of the words 'under God' is unconstitutional and should be forbidden." The Democrats and the Washington press corps had no clue that the issue was a potent one. This time around they will get it. To religious conservatives, "under God" is a crucial symbol, the last religious reference left in the schools since the separationist makeover of education.
The new ruling would ban the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools of nine West Coast states because two of the three federal appeal court judges thought the phrase "under God" was a dangerous endorsement of monotheism. But "under God" is in line with "In God We Trust" on currency, "God save this honorable court" at the Supreme Court, and annual Thanksgiving messages from the president. The "God" in these messages is viewed by different people in different ways. Some see it as a heartfelt reference to a living deity. To others it is a vague expression of "ceremonial deism" or even a content-free catch-phrase, as in "God bless you" after a sneeze.