Reaction: 9th Circuit decision goes too far

Posted: Thursday, June 27, 2002

"(The courts) are the epitome of hypocrisy. They pick and choose what parts of the constitution to obey."

Nikiski Middle-High School history teacher Bob Bird said his opinions may not be popular, but when it comes to a federal appeals court decision Wednesday that deems reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools unconstitutional, his reaction was the norm.

"The whole problem begins with the myth -- that many people accept -- that the Constitution is a living document. What that means is that it is dead, the exact opposite," Bird said. "If you can turn it into anything you want it to mean, what is the point of having a constitution?"

Bird used a bit of history to demonstrate his point. In the first 10 years of the Constitution's existence, he said, four of five of the 13 colonies actually had tax-supported state religions. At that time, not even such a dramatic tie between state and religion was deemed unconstitutional, he said.

"That is because the first word of the first amendment is Congress. 'Congress shall make no law ... ,'" he said.

"It doesn't say Congress and the states, it doesn't say Congress and the school district.

"Tax-supported religion is obviously something no one wants, but that's a far cry from one word in the pledge," he said. "They are clearly out in left field. They don't know history and they don't know the Constitution."

While others were not quite as livid about the court's decision, many did agree that the court had gone too far.

"It's just batty," said Gary Whitely, assistant superintendent for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.

Whitely, who wrote his doctoral dissertation on religion in America, said that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has traditionally made many surprising decisions reflecting a position more liberal than the rest of the country.

"I'd be surprised if the ruling was upheld," he said, citing the fact that the decision will not be implemented for several months, leaving time for appeals.

"I'm sure the government will ask the full court to reconsider," he said. "Case law right now says people who object are not compelled to say (the pledge). I think that's one of the government's arguments, one of the avenues the Bush administration will pursue."

Personally, he said, he does not see a need to alter the pledge.

"I think there are other things to spend time on," Whitely said. "The last time I checked, quite a few students couldn't read. I'm more worried about that."

Current district policy encourages patriotic activity and mandates that the pledge be said each day. However, the policy also notes that no one can be compelled to participate. Students and staff are not required to salute or even stand for the pledge if they object for personal reasons.

Whitely said the pledge will continue in district schools for now, as the court decision is not yet official.

"We're just going to take a wait-and-see attitude," he said.

On other fronts, Congressman Don Young promptly issued a press release Wednesday objecting to the decision.

"This is just another example of why the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals does not serve the people of Alaska," Young said in a written statement.

"This just reinforces my belief that justice isn't served by its liberal bias. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals obviously doesn't understand the meaning of God."

In a prepared statement, American Legion National Commander Richard J. Santos said, "This decision is ridiculous.

"The American people know this is wrong. They will not be swayed by the twisted logic of judges who have taken prayer out of schools and ruled that the burning of our nation's flag is speech.

"This decision cannot stand. We believe the American people will not allow it to stand. And The American Legion will stand with the American people all the way to the Supreme Court."

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