taking the pledge
By now it's all over the blogosphere that a three-member panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled the required recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools unconstitutional due to the 1954 addition of the words "under God." Predictably, editorial boards, senators, and not a few ordinary citizens are outraged by the ruling.
I don't have any comment on the legal basis of the ruling; The Volkoh Conspiracy has much thoughtful analysis (start there and work your way up). His take as I understand it: "a perfectly plausible application of the Supreme Court's precedents on the matter," but by no means sure to survive--or fail under--a Supreme Court test.
I do, however, have a comment on the issue that I haven't seen made elsewhere yet. Does anyone other than schoolkids and people granted U.S. citizenship ever say the Pledge of Allegiance? Think about the idea of a pledge...my Webster's defines it as "a binding promise or agreement to do or forbear" (and also as "a bailment of a chattel as security for a debt or other obligation," but that one doesn't apply). But minors can't legally be held to a contract; they're assumed to not be sufficiently responsible to be held to their word. In that light, of course the Pledge is coercive...it's asking a promise of someone assumed not to be able to assume responsibility for the promise. The idea, I'm pretty sure, is to have the recitiation of the Pledge instill the values if espouses by rote repetition--not that that's an inherently bad thing, but I don't think it's unreasonable to hold the phrase "under God" to a more stringent test than other examples of "ceremonial Deism" like the "in God we trust" motto on currency.
Also, the notion that someone could "voluntarily" refrain from taking part in the Pledge (or so-called "voluntary" prayers) doesn't wash with me. There's tremendous pressure in schools to conform--at least as I remember school. The problem with the concept of "voluntary" is that it endorses a display of "we all believe this, and you're an outsider for not believeing as we do," It establishes a preference for one belief system over another. That for me is enough to consider applying the First Amendment's Establishment clause.
I'm cooking up some more thoughts and hope to post them later.
Update: One of the judges who issued the ruling--a Nixon appointee, by the way--has issued a stay pending appeal, so it looks like whatever the brouhaha, nothing will change until the Supreme Court has a chance to weigh in on the matter.