Courts send differing messages on church-state divide
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Contentious federal and Supreme Court rulings this week have sent conflicting messages about the separation of church and state in the United States.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 Thursday that with using public funds to pay for students to attend religious schools posed no constitutional problems.
The decision came a day after a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the phrase "under God" makes the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional. The ruling came from a Sacramento, California-area case.
CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said Thursday that the two rulings send conflicting messages about how sharp the dividing line should be between government and religious institutions.
"There's a contradiction between the two, and as always, the Supreme Court wins, and that bodes ill for the California case," Toobin said.
In the Wednesday ruling, the Circuit Court panel decided 2-1 that reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools is an unconstitutional "endorsement of religion" because of the addition of the phrase "under God" in 1954 by Congress. (More on the decision)
Late Thursday, one of the judges who a day earlier ruled reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools is unconstitutional issued a stay pending likely appeals.Thursday's stay issued by Alfred Goodwin, a Nixon-appointed judge, did not dramatically alter the dynamics of the case because the ruling was not expected to take effect immediately.
If allowed to stand, the ruling would apply to schools in the nine states covered by the 9th Circuit. (Jeffrey Toobin on whether the decision can stand)
In an opinion typical of the anger expressed on both sides of the aisle in Congress, Senate majority leader Tom Daschle, South Dakotan Democrat, weighed in with, "Just nuts." (Full story)
Wednesday, House members gathered on the Capitol steps and recited the Pledge of Allegiance in a show of support. (GOP to blame Democrats)
"The view of the White House is that this was a wrong decision, and the Department of Justice is now evaluating how to seek redress," White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said. Options include asking the full 9th Circuit to reconsider the case or taking the matter directly to the Supreme Court of the United States, according to The Washington Post.
Thursday's Supreme Court ruling on vouchers, meanwhile, reversed a lower court which said nearly all low-income Cleveland, Ohio, students receiving the vouchers were using the tax-supported vouchers to attend Roman Catholic schools. (Full story)
The court endorsed a 6-year-old pilot program in inner-city Cleveland that gives parents a tax-supported education stipend. Parents may use the money to opt out of one of the worst-rated public schools systems in the nation.
Attorney General John Ashcroft called the decision "historic" and "a great victory for parents and children across America, particularly for many minority, low-income students who have been trapped in failing public schools."
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