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Thursday, April 29, 2004 - Page updated at 12:38 A.M.
McDermott leads pledge in House, omits 'under God'
WASHINGTON U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott turned a routine recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance into a political flap this week when he omitted the words "under God" while leading the House of Representatives in the pledge.
McDermott, D-Seattle, said he recited the pledge before Tuesday's House session the way he had learned it as a child in Illinois, before the words "under God" were added, and that he meant no offense. When he came to "under God," McDermott paused while the rest of the House said the words and then continued on with the pledge.
"That's how I've always said it," McDermott said yesterday. "I make my pledge to my country and that's the end of it."
Republicans pounced on the omission. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, accused McDermott of "embarrassing the House and disparaging the majority of Americans who share the values expressed in the pledge."
Washington State Republican Party chairman Chris Vance echoed the criticism in a statement yesterday: "One more time, Jim McDermott has embarrassed Washington state."
The House's presiding officer Tuesday, Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, said the words "under God" would appear in the Congressional Record of Tuesday's proceedings, regardless of how McDermott had recited the pledge.
McDermott, 67, has been a lightning rod for conservatives since he took a high-profile trip to Iraq in 2002 and told television interviewers President Bush would mislead the public to justify an invasion.
He has continued to loudly oppose the war and attack Bush. On Tuesday, after leading the pledge, McDermott gave a one-minute floor speech denouncing the Bush administration and other Republicans for launching a "sneak attack" on presumptive Democratic nominee John Kerry's war record.
During the pledge, McDermott said, "My mind was on my one-minute speech. I didn't go through any long process about it. It was without very much thought. This is a personal pledge we are making. I'm pledging allegiance to my country. That's what I swore an oath to do. ... I wasn't trying to make any kind of statement."
"Can't these people give it up?" he said. "Can't they realize that they should be grateful that people are willing to pledge allegiance to the flag of this great country in any way they see fit to honor it?"
The words "under God" were added to the pledge in 1954. Congress inserted the words at the height of the Cold War to distinguish the religious tradition of the United States from the official atheism of the Soviet Union.
Controversy over the two words erupted last year, when the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the words amounted to a government endorsement of religion. The case is on appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard arguments this year.
Congress responded to the case by passing a resolution denouncing the appeals-court ruling. McDermott was one of 11 Democrats who voted "present" instead of for or against it.
"I was a 6-year-old boy when I gave my heart to Jesus Christ," said McDermott, a member of St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle. "I went to Wheaton College with Billy Graham. But religion shouldn't be worn on your sleeve. I don't wear my religion on my sleeve. I don't think my relationship with God has any place in this."
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Material from the Associated Press is included in the report.
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