A federal appeals court Friday reaffirmed its decision that the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional because of the phrase ‘‘under God,’’ a decision that immediately cast a cloud over the way the pledge is recited in schools and other public arenas in Arizona.
The ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals means the case could go to the U.S. Supreme Court. In Washington, a Justice Department spokesman said no decision has been made about whether to appeal the ruling.
Friday's decision came in response to a request by the Bush administration that the San Francisco-based court, which includes Arizona within its jurisdiction, reconsider its controversial ruling of last year. The court's previous ruling had no effect while the petition was pending.
In Scottsdale and other East Valley communities, public school districts said Friday they will consult with attorneys to find out how the latest decision will affect the pledge as recited by thousands of children.
"We'll have to get legal counsel. It's our wish to have the kids say the Pledge of Allegiance ‘under God,’ but this is the first we're hearing about it so we'll have to get some input," said Terry Locke, spokesman for the Chandler Unified School District.
Officials at the Arizona School Boards Association and state Attorney General's Office said they had not reviewed the appellate court's opinion as of late Friday and would have to research the potential impact on schools and other government groups where the pledge is recited. Many school boards, city councils and other government bodies recite the pledge before meetings.
Mesa Unified School District governing board member Elaine Miner said she was saddened by the court's ruling and hopes the district can find some avenue to keep "under God" in the pledge.
"It's really scary to think that people want to take God out of everything," she said.
The court said it would not accept any other petitions to reconsider last June’s ruling by a three-judge panel that the pledge is unconstitutional when recited in public classrooms. Ruling on a lawsuit brought by Sacramento atheist Michael Newdow, the court panel decided 2-1 that Newdow’s daughter should not be subjected to the words ‘‘under God’’ at her public school. The court said the phrase was an endorsement of God, and the Constitution forbids public schools or other governmental entities from endorsing religion.
In Scottsdale, like other school districts, the pledge is voluntary, said spokeswoman Carol Hughes. District attorneys will examine what happens next for the pledge, she said.
‘‘We're just finding out the appellate court refused to reconsider their decision. We're going to have to take a look at it and see how we move forward,’’ she said.
Apache Junction schools have not changed the way the pledge is said since last summer's ruling, said district spokeswoman Carol Shepherd. Teachers have the option of starting the day with the students by reciting the pledge, but students are not forced to say the pledge or the ‘‘under God,’’ portion, she said.
‘‘If the child would choose not to say ‘under God’ that would be fully up to them. There's freedom of speech," she said.
Shepherd has not heard from parents regarding any court rulings about the pledge.
Pauline Sanchez, Mesa mother of seven children, said she likes how the pledge includes a reference to a higher being and agrees with how it has been said for many years.
"It should be included because it focuses on the best of us. Those who don't want to say it are free not to say it. But I think the majority of America is faith-based on a creator and I think the majority has the right to have that," she said.
President Bush and Congress immediately condemned the decision, which would prevent public schoolchildren from reciting the pledge in the nine western states covered by the nation’s largest — and, critics charge, most liberal — appeals court.
Those states are Arizona, Alaska, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.
Congress added the words "under God'' to the pledge in 1954.