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Published: Saturday, 6/29/2002

Taft rallies at star-spangled Statehouse to defend God's place in U.S. pledge

BY JAMES DREW
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF
Gov. Bob Taft calls on the U.S. Supreme Court or U.S. judges to overturn a federal appeals court's ruling - now on hold - to eliminate the words, `under God,' from the pledge. Gov. Bob Taft calls on the U.S. Supreme Court or U.S. judges to overturn a federal appeals court's ruling - now on hold - to eliminate the words, `under God,' from the pledge.
DIPTI VAIDYA Enlarge

COLUMBUS - Whipping up a red, white, and blue frenzy on the Statehouse lawn, Gov. Bob Taft yesterday led schoolchildren in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, boosting their voices as they reached “one nation under God.”

Mr. Taft joined a nationwide parade of elected officials who have blasted Wednesday's ruling by a San Francisco-based federal appeals court. The decision said the reference to God in the pledge amounts to a government endorsement of religion in violation of the separation of church and state.

Mr. Taft referred to the 2-1 decision - which is on hold as appeals are filed - as a “shocking attack on one of our beloved American traditions.”

He called on federal judges or the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the decision - which could block the Pledge of Allegiance from being recited in public schools in nine western states covered by the federal appeals court.

About 300 people at the rally shouted “yes” and waved flags as Mr. Taft asked: “Do you love our great country? Do you support our Pledge of Allegiance just as it is? Do you want to keep the words `one nation under God' in our pledge? Do you think the decision against our pledge should be overturned?”

“Our decision is unanimous,” the governor said.

But Mr. Taft apparently didn't count Columbus residents Nikki Churchill and Rachel Robinson, who held a large sign with the message: “We would enjoy a little separation of church and state.”

Ms. Robinson, a 31-year-old lawyer who said her religious beliefs are Christian, said she supports the appeals court's decision.

“`Under God' was added in 1954 and it should not be in the Pledge of Allegiance. Separation of church and state is what this country was founded on. It was founded because in other places, people were being persecuted for their religious beliefs. That's why people came here,” she said.

Tim Hagan, the Democratic candidate for governor, said he shares Mr. Taft's opposition to the federal appeals court ruling. But he questioned why Mr. Taft needed to hold a rally.

“It does not take any courage to stand in front of a crowd of people who are 100 percent in favor of your position,” Mr. Hagan said.

Allen Roy, a Republican candidate for House District 47 - which covers East and South Toledo - was at the rally along with several House Republicans, who wrapped up a two-day caucus yesterday.

Mr. Roy said the ruling “drives home the message” that the U.S. Senate should confirm President Bush's nomination of Ohio Supreme Court Justice Deborah Cook to a federal appeals court based in Cincinnati.

“We need to limit activist judges. ... Government cannot tell me not to put God in the pledge,” Mr. Roy said.

State Rep. Lynn Olman (R., Maumee) took a shot at the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate.

“We're currently looking at 30 vacancies on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and the U.S. Senate has only approved seven of our President's nominees. If nothing else, I hope this ruling serves as a wakeup call to our senators to fill these vacancies with the kind of judges that will exercise good sense,” Mr. Olman said.



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