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In the Crossfire

Does 'under God' endorse religion?

(CNN) -- A federal appeals court panel in San Francisco declared Wednesday that the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional and unfit for the classroom. The justices say the phrase "one nation under God" amounts to a government establishment of religion, which is expressly forbidden by the First Amendment.

Speaking at the G-8 summit in Canada, President Bush said that the ruling was "out of step with the history and traditions of America," and said it highlighted the need for "common-sense judges that understand that our rights are derived from God."

The Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and "Crossfire" host Tucker Carlson go one-on-one over the constitutionality of the Pledge.

CARLSON: Barry Lynn, not everyone is comfortable with the phrase "one nation under God".

LYNN: That's right.

CARLSON: I'll grant you that, but it's not establishment of a state religion and it's not an attempt to establish a state religion. So how in the world is this one phrase unconstitutional?

LYNN: Well, the Congress of the United States in 1954 decided to take a perfectly good Pledge of Allegiance that supported our democratic, patriotic principals and added to it the controversial clause "under God." Now it does mean something. This is the national Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag.

It's as close to an official act of endorsing monotheism, belief in one God, as anything I can imagine. So I can imagine you saying that sometimes when I appear on this program that you don't see the separation of church and state issue, but when Congress declares that to be a good American patriot, you also have to believe in one God, that crosses the line.

CARLSON: Well, of course that's not what Congress is declaring. But it goes deeper than that. When you say the Pledge of Allegiance is about as close as we get to a unifying national document, let's get even closer. Let's get to the Declaration of Independence. Doubtless you're familiar with it.

The first paragraph mentions God. The second, more famous paragraph does too. But we hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal if they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights and among these were liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

This is the central document of American democracy.

LYNN: No, it's not.

CARLSON: Is it unconstitutional?

LYNN: No it's actually not. It's the ...

CARLSON: Barry, it's the Declaration of Independence.

LYNN: ... it's the central political statement about what this country was going to become. But when we wrote the Constitution, we quite deliberately didn't put the word God in it at all, because that was the governing principal that was going to guarantee the one freedom above all others ...

CARLSON: So the Declaration doesn't really mean anything?

LYNN: ... the freedom of conscience and if you don't believe in the freedom of conscience and the right of somebody to say, you should not tie, to me, both religion and patriotism. They are two different things. I can be 100 percent American without believing in God. You violate their conscience, now a court has said you can't have those words in the pledge, and I think it makes perfectly good sense.




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