The 2-1 decision made by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Wednesday that the inclusion of the phrase “Under God” is unconstitutional sparked huge debate across the country. Issues were raised about the separation of church and state, the definition of God and endorsing religion.

Paul Wong
American flags stand tall along the Campus Inn on East Huron Street.
SHOSHANA HURAND/Daily

The decision, which will not affect Michigan unless upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, was stayed, meaning that it will not take effect in the states overseen by the 9th Circuit, which includes California, Washington, Oregon, and Iowa unless the decision is looked at again and reversed.

But if it is upheld, the Pledge will go back to its original pre-1954 version, which did not mention God, a possibility that had lawmakers and politicians nationwide surprised, including President Bush, who was quoted as saying the decision was “ridiculous.” But several University law professors said they agreed with the decision, based on the principles of the Constitution’s Establishment Clause, which prohibits the endorsement of any one religion.

“God, no God, that’s not a matter for the government. I think it was a good decision,” University Law Prof. Richard Friedman said. “But those words were stuck in there for a purpose, and the purpose was to include an expression of loyalty to God … and to differentiate the United States from communist countries that had atheist ideology.”

Despite that, Friedman added that he didn’t think the ruling would be upheld.

Instead, he said he believes one of two things will happen: Either the 9th Circuit will review the decision and the full court will reverse it and affirm the lower court, or the Supreme Court will choose to hear the case and reverse it.

Friedman said he believes the Supreme Court would agree to hear the case because it conflicts with a decision made by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals years ago.

Whether or not the words to the pledge will end up being omitted, the decision and the lawsuit itself, brought up by University Law School alum Michael Newdow, an atheist who did not want his second-grade daughter to listen to her classmates and teacher endorse God, has, for some Americans, hit America in its heart.

The belief in God “is a huge part of our nation’s history,” LSA senior Krystle Ariyavatkul said, citing the government’s other common references to God, such as the words ‘In God We Trust’ on currency. “This nation was founded under a belief in God. … It just seems like that’s the way the Pledge has been for so long, I would need a better argument for (taking the phrase out).”

Other students said they could see both sides of the debate.

“I believe one God can reflect all sorts of religions,” LSA senior Michael Richey said. “At the same time, for those people who do not believe in a God, living in a country that promotes acceptance of every belief and non-discriminatory practices, then it could be a problem.”

Richey said that though he does not feel his ties to the Pledge of Allegiance are especially strong right now since he does not often recite it, he is glad the issue arose and believes it should be addressed, no matter what the decision.

“I think it could be a much more sensitive topic at this point in time and pull on people more than at other times,” he said. “But I think it’s an important topic to debate and discuss, so I don’t see why it should be put off because of the political climate.”

Friedman added that he does not believe the lawsuit was brought up to make anybody angry but acknowledged that some Americans are defensive.

“What you are talking about is one of the great icons of American political culture. It’s a pledge that most Americans are very, very familiar with. It’s an icon that goes to the heart of patriotism,” Friedman said, adding that he did not believe anybody meant to attack the Pledge of Allegiance. “We’re not talking about the pledge – the pledge is fine, it’s just about the insertion.”

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