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Published: Wednesday, 3/24/2010

Not a prayer

THE so-called culture wars are not what they were. Maybe the public has grown tired, maybe people are more sophisticated, or maybe other issues just loom larger in a recession. Whatever the reasons, hot-button issues don't seem so hot these days.

This is progress. Gays recently were given the right to wed in Washington, D.C., and though this was greeted with some protests, most Americans stayed calm. And it has been a while since prayer in public settings has been a source of fresh agitation.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which sits in San Francisco and has a reputation for liberal pronouncements, did the nation a favor by refusing to throw new logs on a diminishing fire of controversy. A panel of the court upheld the use of the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance and "In God We Trust" on U.S. currency.

The two challenges were brought by Michael Newdow, an atheist from Sacramento. He launched a suit against the use of the Pledge of Allegiance that reached the Supreme Court in 2004. The court ducked the issue then by saying Mr. Newdow did not have legal standing. Predictably, Mr. Newdow has found parents who do have standing and is back to press the Pledge issue.

His is an unwise and undesirable crusade. The Pledge of Allegiance and mention of God on U.S. money do not create a constitutionally unacceptable establishment of religion under the First Amendment. Attempts to scrub every mention of God from the public square do not vindicate anybody's rights.

The issue is a little complicated in the case of the Pledge of Allegiance. The words "under God" were added in 1954 for the purpose of showing that this was a nation of faith, in contrast to the godless communism it was opposing in the Cold War.

But the Pledge of Allegiance is not a prayer. It is, in the words of Judge Carlos Bea, who wrote the majority opinion in the appeals court's 2-1 ruling, something that "serves to unite our vast nation through the proud recitation of some of the ideals upon which our Republic was founded." Plus, no child is forced to say the Pledge.

As for God's name on money, that too has become so much part of the cultural furniture that most Americans probably don't even notice it is there.

When Mr. Newdow went to the 9th Circuit in 2002 with his first Pledge of Allegiance suit, it agreed with him. This time it didn't - which gives hope that if his challenges go to the Supreme Court, he may be disappointed again. His obsession is no reason to revive the culture wars for a new set of pointless distractions.



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