Petition Drive 'on Fire' after Court Ruling on Pledge of Allegiance

By David Thibault | July 7, 2008 | 8:04 PM EDT

( - An online petition drive calling for a constitutional amendment to prevent the words "under God" from being removed from the Pledge of Allegiance is "on fire," according to the petition's organizer, following Friday's ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The full court affirmed a decision rendered by a smaller panel of justices from the same court last June.

Donald Wildmon, chairman of the American Family Association in Tupelo, Miss., which sponsors, said more than 100,000 individuals have signed the on-line petition since the ruling was announced Friday afternoon.

"What [the court] did is set it on fire," Wildmon said.

Shortly after the decision was released, Wildmon wrote a short message, "something done in haste," he said, and e-mailed it to those who had already included their names on his petition. In the message, Wildmon asked the recipients to forward it to friends.

More than 24,000 people added their names to the drive on Saturday, and an equal number did so on Sunday. As of 2:30 p.m. on Monday, more than 20,000 others had pledged their support for the constitutional amendment, Wildmon said.

In fact, Wildmon has had to take steps to accommodate the surge in traffic on his website.

"We were looking at it earlier this morning, and 3,000 were on-line at one time, and we were slowing down, so we took several programs that we normally run and took them out so it would not slow down the traffic coming in," Wildmon said.

The petition drive was launched last July, following the initial verdict by the 9th Circuit, but the signatures had slowed down to about 300 per day until Friday, Wildmon said.

The on-line petition now has more than 500,000 names, and a hard-copy version has also drawn more than 500,000 signatures, he said.

The decision from the 9th Circuit Court is set to take effect March 9, when it will be illegal for 9.6 million public school children in nine Western states to say the words "under God" while reciting the pledge.

The controversy revolves around two words, "under God," that Congress added to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954 at a time Republican Dwight Eisenhower was president.

However, California atheist Michael Newdow, whose daughter attends public school in the Elk Grove Unified School District, challenged the Pledge of Allegiance in court, arguing that it violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits government from establishing or preventing the free exercise of religion.

Judge Alfred T. Goodwin, writing for the majority in the amended ruling issued Friday, stated that the Elk Grove school district's policy "impermissibly coerces a religious act" and does violate the Establishment Clause.

The words, "under God," Goodwin wrote, are a "profession of a religious belief, namely, a belief in monotheism.

"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," Goodwin wrote.

"The school district's practice of teacher-led recitation of the Pledge aims to inculcate in students a respect for the ideals set forth in the Pledge, including the religious values it incorporates," the judge added.

Many people expect the U.S. Supreme Court to eventually rule on the case, especially since the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has declared that the Pledge of Allegiance, with the words "under God," may be legally recited in public school classrooms.

Wildmon, who is 65 years old, said he is part of a generation that remembers "when being patriotic was a good thing." He said the 9th Circuit's ruling is "a result of liberals gaining positions of influence in our country - controlling it, dominating it."

But while the 9th Circuit Court is "the most liberal court in the country," Wildmon said he was surprised the full 24-member court did not reverse the earlier ruling from a three-judge panel. He is also unwilling to guess how the U.S. Supreme Court might rule on the issue.

"When you've got something as simple as this, and you've got 24 on the bench, all of them voting, and they still upheld this thing, I don't know where the Supreme Court would go with it," he said.

Read the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals' ruling in Newdow v. U.S. Congress.

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