CORONADO, Calif. Two judges who sparked a furor with their ruling that a section of the Pledge of Allegiance was unconstitutional say politics and public fears following the Sept. 11 attacks have intensified the controversy beyond their expectations.
"I can't think of any decision where the entire Congress immediately rushes to condemn a decision by the court," said Circuit Judge Stephen Reinhardt. "It's getting to be election time and this gives everyone in Congress a chance to prove they are patriotic."
Reinhardt, along with Circuit Judge Alfred T. Goodwin, have been receiving plenty of feedback about their Pledge of Allegiance decision at this week's annual conference of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Goodwin said yesterday that he has been involved in many "hot button issues" over the years but nothing has matched the reaction to this ruling. "It's the noisiest thing I've ever experienced," he said.
Both judges said they were surprised when demonstrators began picketing their homes and the court. One group flew a plane over Reinhardt's home trailing a banner declaring, "One Nation Under God."
That's the phrase the judges ruled was a violation of the separation of church and state when recited in public schools.
"I think it's a bit excessive," said Reinhardt, who was at his office July 13 when he heard about crowds of demonstrators and a plane with a banner flying over his home.
In a 2-1 decision, the court ruled the phrase amounts to a government endorsement of religion. The words "under God" were inserted by Congress in 1954 to distinguish American democracy from "godless communism."
President Bush has criticized the ruling, and Attorney General John Ashcroft has said the government will join the Elk Grove school board in asking for a new hearing before an 11-judge panel.
The lawsuit that brought the decision was filed by a California atheist, Michael Newdow, who did not want his second-grade daughter to be forced to listen to the pledge.
The dissenting judge on the pledge decision, Ferdinand Fernandez, did not attend the gathering of the nation's largest circuit court which drew hundreds of jurists.
In a tense moment at the start of the four-day conference, U.S. District Judge Michael R. Hogan of Eugene, Ore., performed a naturalization ceremony and then led several hundred people, including many judges, in reciting the pledge.
"One of the things that's great about our country is that we can disagree and still respect one another," Hogan said. He told those gathered to say "whatever words are appropriate." There was no change in volume when the words "under God" were spoken.