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Pledge ruling placed on hold

With everyone from the neighborhood barber to President Bush weighing in on his explosive Pledge of Allegiance decision, a federal appeals judge Thursday threw another wrinkle into the controversy by putting the ruling on hold.

Judge Alfred Goodwin's action suspended, probably for several months, Wednesday's ruling by a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that declared the pledge unconstitutional because the phrase "under God" crosses the line between church and state.

Thursday's unusual announcement reflected the furor unleashed by the ruling and appeared designed to calm the public.

Cathy Catterson, the 9th Circuit's clerk, reported "an overwhelming number of phone calls" at the court's San Francisco headquarters and said, "I believe Judge Goodwin's chambers has been contacted as well."

Goodwin, who sits in Pasadena, was the author of Wednesday's 2-1 ruling, as well as Thursday's two-line stay order.

Attorney General John Ashcroft and Gov. Gray Davis said Thursday that they would ask the full 9th Circuit court to reverse the decision.

"The Justice Department will defend the ability of our nation's children to pledge allegiance to the American flag," Ashcroft said.

Davis said he was "personally offended" by the decision and had instructed the state's lawyers to take "decisive action to overturn" it.

The state's lawyers, he said, are working with lawyers for the Elk Grove Unified School District, where the case originated.

While defendants could ask the same panel to rehear the case, Ashcroft and Davis said they would seek a full court review.

Under court rules, decisions by the three-judge panels that initially hear almost all appeals automatically are suspended for 45 days until requests for a rehearing can be received and put to a vote. If the court grants a review, the case will be heard by an 11-judge panel.

Some of the loudest protests against the court's Pledge of Allegiance ruling came from the California and national capitals.

Bush dismissed the decision as "out of step" with America, while House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, called the 9th Circuit "a court run amok."

The House voted 416-3 to express its outrage at Wednesday's decision, and lawmakers filled both houses on Capitol Hill on Thursday morning to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, some yelling the phrase "one nation under God" at the top of their lungs.

In Sacramento, the state Assembly approved a resolution 69-0 to protest the court ruling and to preserve the pledge as it is.

The measure was proposed jointly by Assemblymen Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, and Anthony Pescetti, R-Rancho Cordova, whose district includes the Elk Grove school district.

Pescetti called the Pledge of Allegiance a "statement about our country that joins us together, regardless of race gender, creed or religion."

State Attorney General Bill Lockyer said his office, too, would press for a rehearing. Lockyer said he and Davis "believe that the court's ruling is flawed and should be reversed."

Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon, meanwhile, said Davis and Lockyer "relinquished their responsibilities" by not joining the fight against the suit until after Wednesday's court decision, even though the state was named as a defendant.

Davis said that neither his office nor Lockyer's were served papers about the lawsuit, and did not know it existed until the appellate decision was announced.

In Sacramento, restaurants, coffee shops and construction zones were bursting with opinions and rhetoric Thursday as people cranked up radios and television sets to hear the latest news on the issue.

At Mo' Hair on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Oak Park, the opinions were divided, said stylist Mucatha Mkuyu.

"Some people feel: We did it when we were a kid, so it's cool," Mkuyu said. "Me ... I don't think you should force kids to do it."

At a state Department of Water Resources office downtown, Christina Rivas discussed the court decision when she arrived at work. "I was upset. The parents in the office think it's ridiculous, too," Rivas said.

Rivas said she thought the problem could be solved by substituting "under my god" for "under God" in the pledge. "It should be 'under my god.' Everyone believes their own thing, even the atheists. They're their own god."

Barbara O'Connor, a professor of communications at California State University, Sacramento, said the issue is resonating from coast to coast because it hits all the key pressure points in American society -- God, children and what it means to be an American.

She said the issue would be a sensitive subject in any year, but it's particularly volatile in the wake of Sept. 11. and a week before July 4. "The collective ego post-September 11 is still very frayed," she said. "People think that doing anything that questions one of our symbols of cultural identity is a challenge to our security."

The pledge issue also rumbled through the Pocket home of Dr. Michael Newdow, the emergency room physician who challenged the constitutionality of the pledge on behalf of his 8-year-old daughter.

For the second day, he was hounded by reporters and fielded calls from a constantly ringing phone. "I'm going to be in your neighborhood today," said one caller on the answering machine. "I'm going to look you up and I'm going to beat your ... ass."

Many callers supported him. Most did not.

Some who disagreed were logical and rational, while others used profanity. Some yelled and screamed, and others cheered.

Many recited the pledge -- adding a few choice words at the end.

Sacramento Police Capt. Sam Somers said police where aware of the threats and would keep an eye on any suspicious activity in the neighborhood.

But in addition to rallying support for the pledge, the decision also galvanized people who said they've always been against the "under God" wording but never raised their voices in protest.

Phil LaZier, a chaplain with the American Humanist Association who marries couples in a secular fashion, said he decision has nonbelievers suddenly speaking up. "It's going to help a lot of people with similar beliefs come out of the closet," he said.


About the Writer

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The Bee's Matthew Barrows can be reached at (916) 321-1008 ormbarrows@sacbee.com. Bee staff writers Carlos Alcalá, Claire Cooper, Ralph Montaño, Jim Sanders and Dan Smith and the Associated Press and New York Times contributed to this report.

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