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Supreme Court decision could impact Missouri's Pledge-in-school law

October 23, 2003
By: Josh Hinkle
State Capital Bureau

The U.S. Supreme Court set the stage this month for a major First Amendment battle over the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. Josh Hinkle has more on what this could mean for a Missouri law requiring the Pledge in schools.

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The state law says all public schools must offer time for the Pledge of Allegiance at least once a week. But an upcoming U.S. Supreme Court decision could mean changes to the law.

Three years ago, the battle began in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in California over the words "under God," saying it violated the First Amendment's establishment clause which separates church and state.

Matt LeMieux, the executive director of eastern Missouri's A-C-L-U, says Missouri's law could meet the same fate.

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Contents: "IT COULD RUN AFOUL OF THE ESTABLISHMENT CLAUSE WHEN YOU'RE EXPRESSING YOUR ALLEGIANCE NOT ONLY TO COUNTRY, BUT AS THE WAY THE PLEDGE HAS RUN SINCE THE 1950S, ALSO TO GOD." Story:
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Other states are starting to follow suit. In August, a federal judge in Colorado put a temporary hold on a law requiring students and teachers to recite the pledge.

Thirty three states now require the pledge during the day, six encourage it and a handful of others-- like Missouri --have guidelines on the issues.

State Sen. Sarah Steelman co-sponsored the Missouri bill to manadate the pledge in classrooms. She says it would be unfortunate if the Supreme Court ruled the pledge unconstitutional in schools.

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Contents: "WHY THOSE PEOPLE, THOSE SOLDIERS WHO HAD DIED IN WARS, WHAT THEY DIED FOR WAS FREEDOM. AND TO UNDERSTAND THAT IT IS IMPORTANT TO HAVE A SENSE OF PATRIOTISM FOR YOUR COUNTRY, AND THAT BY RECITING THE PLEDGE YOU BEGIN TO UNDERSTAND THE MEANING OF THAT."
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Steelman is not the only lawmaker from Missouri who supports keeping the pledge. U.S. Congressman Todd Akin is the principle sponsor of "The Pledge Protection Act of 2003," a measure that would prevent lower federal courts from ruling on pledge-related cases.

But the House Judiciary Committee is now blocking the bill from a full floor vote, thus stopping Congress from blocking future rulings like the one made by the Ninth Circuit Court.

And with that ruling now pending in the U.S. Supreme Court, lawmakers can only sit back and wait for the verdict.

LeMiuex says the Court will simply have to weigh the constitutionality of the issue.

"IF THE SUPREME COURT HELD THAT THE PLEDGE WITH THE WORDS 'UNDER GOD' VIOLATED THE FIRST AMENDMENT OF THE CONSTITUTION, THEN THAT WOULD MAKE MISSOURI'S LAW MANDATING RECITAL OF THE PLEDGE NULL AND VOID."

The Court is set to hear the case next year.