Falwell, Lynn: Ministers debate pledge ruling
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(CNN) -- A federal appeals court ruling declaring the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools unconstitutional has ignited a firestorm of controversy across the country.
In a 2-1 decision Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the addition of the phrase "under God" to the oath in 1954 violated the First Amendment prohibition against the establishment of a state religion. If allowed to stand, the ruling would apply to schools in nine Western states under the 9th Circuit's jurisdiction.
CNN anchor Bill Hemmer discussed the case Thursday with the Rev. Jerry Falwell, founder of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, and the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
HEMMER: This ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals declaring the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional -- they say it's an endorsement of religion -- and it has been largely greeted with outrage across the country. Various corners are reacting to this. Let's get a couple of opinions this morning. ...
Rev. Lynn, let's begin with you. ... Was this a case of judicial activism? Was this a case of a court inserting its opinion into this issue?
LYNN: I don't think so. I believe that this is very much consistent with the idea of what the First Amendment is supposed to protect, and that's primarily the freedom of conscience of every American, even those who are in very small minorities.
I happen to like the Pledge of Allegiance. I like the original one, written back in 1892 by a minister who didn't feel it was necessary to use the word "God" because he was writing a patriotic statement for the country. Back in 1954, we got a little politically correct during the McCarthy era. Everybody had to prove not just that they loved America, but that they also loved God. We got patriotism and religion confused.
All the court did [Wednesday] was to say to Congress, "You have the right to write patriotic affirmations. You don't have the right to take positions on matters of faith and religion because that's up to the American people and the religious institutions of our country."
HEMMER: Let me get the Rev. Falwell on this one. What does it hurt to lose these two words, Rev. Falwell?
FALWELL: It hurts a great deal because, for example, from the Declaration of Independence itself speaks to the providence of the creator, of God. You'd have to rule the Declaration of Independence unconstitutional. And anyone who knows American history knows this nation was in fact established upon the Judeo-Christian ethic. In 1954, when the Congress put those words "under God" in there, it was for a specific purpose, to say to the world that we are not China, we are not Russia.
I know that Barry and Americans United want "In God we trust" off the coins and they want God out of the public square and they -- all this stuff about endorsing a state religion. No one's more against state churches than I am.
But I am saying that at a time of war, at a time when America is at peril, like right now, we do not need to alienate God or 96 percent of the American population who are people of faith who believe in God for the sake of a few radicals like the guy who filed this.
And I heard him say [Wednesday] not for his little second-grade child, daughter, but rather he was looking at a dollar bill and saw "In God we trust" on it. He said, "I don't trust in God, and I'm not willing to let that stand."
Well, these anti-God, anti-Christ, anti-faith, anti-religion people, every president of all the presidents have acknowledged the existence of God. The Congress, as I said, added "under God." We're doing a petition of a million names at falwell.com to present by Friday to the 9th Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court to ask them to quickly meet and reverse this heinous ruling.
HEMMER: We'll see what happens in the court on that ...
LYNN: You know ...
HEMMER: Rev. Lynn, I want to get you back in here. But go back to March. There was a ruling by an appeals court in Ohio and the ruling questioned the motto of the state. And it said, "With God all things are possible." That decision stuck.
If you're looking for recent legal precedent, just go back to the month of March. Will this one stick, reverend?
LYNN: I think this one is much more consistent with the history and values of our country. Of course, the founders had a lot of different opinions about religion, but the one thing they wanted to make absolutely clear was that there wouldn't be a union of government and religion.
And any time that you use a phrase with the word "god" in it, and it'd be, I'm shocked always when Jerry Falwell suggests ...
FALWELL: It makes you sick when that happens.
LYNN: ... that this is something -- that this is something that is not religious. Of course, it's religious. To take an affirmation that says this country is blessed by God or to say, "With God, all things are possible," is to make a profoundly important religious sentiment.
I happen to agree with it. Jerry Falwell agrees with it, I think. But the truth is in America we have to give to every person, including the nonbeliever, the right to exercise his or her conscience. And the day that it becomes dangerous to be an atheist in this company is the day that it becomes dangerous to be anything other than what the government tells you to be.
FALWELL: We did that a long time ago, Barry. No child is required to pledge allegiance to the American flag. No child. That's the law of the land. What this father is saying is not only do I want the right for my child to absent herself from pledging allegiance, I don't want her to have to listen to that awful word God while all the other kids are pledging alliance.
That's, listen, you guys at Americans United and the American Civil Liberties Union are anti-God, anti-religion. You want God and "In God we trust" off the coins, don't you?
LYNN: There's nothing anti-God in the sentiment that says the government has no business getting into the business of writing the prayers or the creeds of our country. What you like to do, Jerry, is constantly say anybody who doesn't agree with you is anti-God. ...
FALWELL: Do you want "In God we trust" off the coins, Barry? Barry, do you want "In God we trust" off the coins?
LYNN: No, I am not running any crusade to do that.
FALWELL: I mean would you vote for that? Would you support that kind of ruling?
LYNN: Of course ... because I recognize our ...
FALWELL: You know what you guys are up to.
HEMMER: All right, gentlemen. Listen, one second here. Just a few seconds left here. I think the point the Rev. Falwell is making -- Rev. Lynn, I want to give you the last word on this -- where does it stop? Does it stop at the money? Does it stop at the Supreme Court? Does it stop at the House and the Senate, the words they recite every day? Where does it go?
LYNN: I think the most important thing is that when you write an official affirmation for the country that every one of us is supposed to recite it should be something that unifies us as the original pledge -- call me a conservative, Jerry -- but the original pledge didn't mention God.
LYNN: The courts said let's take those two extra words out of there because that turns it from patriotism into religion.
LYNN: Let's do that. You can have all the advertisements and the Web sites you want, but the Constitution protects the right of conscience of every single person. ...
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