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Friday, September 24, 2004 - Page updated at 07:34 A.M.
House approves "Under God" bill
By Jim Abrams
The legislation, promoted by GOP conservatives, would prevent federal courts, including the Supreme Court, from hearing cases challenging the words "under God," a part of the pledge for 50 years.
Democrats said majority Republicans were debasing the Constitution to force a vote that could hurt Democrats at the ballot box.
Supporters insisted Congress always has had authority to limit federal court jurisdiction, and the bill is needed to protect an affirmation of religion.
The bill, which the House approved 247-173, has little chance of advancing in the Senate this year, but it laid down another marker for politicians seeking to differentiate themselves from their opponents on volatile social issues of the day. Other "wedge" issues include gay marriage and flag-burning.
The Supreme Court in June dismissed, on a technicality, a 2002 court decision that the religious reference made the pledge unconstitutional.
Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., who wrote the amendment on legislation before the House yesterday, said the outcome could be different if the high court rules on the substance, or "if we allow activist judges to start creating law and say that it is wrong to somehow allow schoolchildren to say 'under God' in the pledge."
In such a scenario, Akin said, the courts will have "emasculated the very heart of what America has always been about."
But Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said, "We're playing with fire here, we are playing with the national unity of this country" by undoing 200 years of federal judicial review and letting each state interpret constitutional law.
The vote paralleled another in July, when the House voted to prevent federal courts from ordering states to recognize same-sex unions sanctioned in other states.
Democrats cited an 1803 Supreme Court decision in which the court asserted its role as the arbiter of what the Constitution says. But Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., said the Constitution gives the high court original jurisdiction only in cases affecting foreign officials or when a state is involved. In other cases, he said, the court is subject to congressional regulations.
"Under God" has been part of the pledge since 1954, when President Eisenhower signed a law amending the pledge. Aside from the constitutional issue, most Americans and almost all members of Congress think "under God" should stay in the pledge.
"This bill has been brought to the floor to embarrass some members, so I respect whatever decisions they have to make in light of the motivations behind it," said Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
In the end, 34 Democrats voted for the bill and six Republicans opposed it. Washington state's three Republicans voted for the measure, and five of its six Democrats opposed it. Rep. Adam Smith did not vote.
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