Thursday, September 23, 2004

We are at war, but dammit - we HAVE to protect the Pledge of Allegiance!

In another stunning example of misplaced priorities, the House of Representatives today passed legislation that strips jurisdiction from all federal courts -- including the Supreme Court -- over any constitutional claim involving the Pledge of Allegiance or its recitation. The bill, H.R.2028, the "Pledge Protection Act of 2003," bars all federal courts, including the Supreme Court, from reviewing cases involving the Pledge of Allegiance.

Full disclosure: I am a lawyer. Please do not stop reading. I only tell you this because the author of the bill, Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) is a self-termed "avid student of the U.S. Constitution". (Not surprisingly, Rep. Akin received a 100% rating from the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian - not necessarily redundant - organization, whose website contains a policy paper on the necessity of a Constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.) I spent a good deal of time studying the Constitution, both in college and law school, as well as Constitutional and legal history. I cannot comment for Rep. Akin on that part.

Text of the bill:
No court created by Act of Congress shall have any jurisdiction, and the Supreme Court shall have no appellate jurisdiction, to hear or decide any question pertaining to the interpretation of, or the validity under the Constitution of, the Pledge of Allegiance, as defined in section 4 of title 4, or its recitation.

Rather than offer a lengthy diatribe (that no one will read anyway - just like the rest of this blog), here are a few things to consider on this issue:

1) The phrase "under God" was added to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954. The Knights of Columbus made a national push to ensure that the Pledge showed that we were not godless heathens like those Soviets (this was actually stated in the amicus curiae brief filed by the K of C in the recent Newdow case in California). Thus, Mr. Akin's statement that removing "under God" would have"emasculated the very heart of what America has always been about" ignores the fact that the Pledge is not only comparatively recent (written in 1892) but also that inclusion of the phrase "under God" has only been around 50 years. Absent the Civil War, the US appears to have survived somehow without either the Pledge, or certain phrasings thereof.

2) In West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943), the Supreme Court struck down a WV law that mandated schoolchildren to recite the Pledge, facing expulsion from school, prosecution, and fines for failure to comply. The Supreme Court held that: "To believe that patriotism will not flourish if patriotic ceremonies are voluntary and spontaneous instead of a compulsory routine is to make an unflattering estimate of the appeal of our institutions to free minds . . . If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high, or petty can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion." 319 U.S. at 639-40.

That was in the heart of WWII. Did something change that I missed?

3) The Supreme Court LAST MONTH in Circle School v. Pappert, 2004 WL 1852953 (3rd Cir. Aug. 19, 2004), stated that: "It may be useful to note our belief that most citizens of the United States willingly recite the Pledge of Allegiance and proudly sing the national anthem. But the rights embodied in the Constitution, particularly the First Amendment, protect the minority -those persons who march to their own drummers. It is they who need the protection afforded by the Constitution and it is the responsibility of federal judges to ensure that protection."

Both of the cited cases protected the rights of patriotic Americans who did not wish to be compelled to say the Pledge, while IN NO WAY infringing upon the rights of other equally patriotic Americans to say the Pledge. If Rep. Akin and his ilk have their way, no federal court, not even the Supreme Court, will be able to issue such a ruling. In other words, if you love the Pledge as is, and Congress changes its mind and removes "under God", there would be nothing you can do in a federal court about it, if the Senate were pass this bill.

All that said, this might just be an election year strategy, in that those who vote against it are deemed to be anti-religion. I am pleased to say that my representative, Rep. Judy Biggert (R-IL) (you can now figure out where I live) voted against this bill. However, I noted that she did vote for the first version of it (which I don't think was smart) that stripped the lower federal courts of jurisdiction but not the Supreme Court, but she voted against the version that included the Supreme Court -- she stated that the "issue today may be the pledge, but what if the issue tomorrow is Second Amendment (gun) rights, civil rights, environmental protection, or a host of other issue that members may hold dear?" Nice quote, but she should have voted against it the first time, also.

On top of the scary jurisdictional thievery, I just cannot fathom how this (not to mention all the crap about gay marriage) became a priority while we are at war in two different countries. I am not being facetious -- why is this such a big deal right now? Did the federal deficit go away while I slept last night? Were a whole bunch of jobs created that I missed hearing about?