A dangerous federal bill just passed by the House of Representatives strips jurisdiction from the federal courts to hear any First Amendment case involving the Pledge of Allegiance.
The bill passed Thursday, Sept. 23, by a vote of 247-173. U.S. Rep. Donald Manzullo (R-16) co-sponsored and voted in favor of the measure, which now awaits approval by the Senate. House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-14) also co-sponsored.
The American Civil Liberties Union and the First Amendment Center are alerting the public to the dangers of this legislation, referring to it as a court-stripping measure.
The Act states: No court created by Act of Congress shall have any jurisdiction, and the Supreme Court shall have no appellate jurisdiction, to hear or decide any question pertaining to the interpretation of, or the validity under the Constitution of, the Pledge of Allegiance or its recitation.
Under the guise of its title, the Pledge Protection Act of 2004, H.R. 2028 amends the U.S. Code and undermines basic First Amendment protections of the Bill of Rights. Not even the U.S. Supreme Court would have the power to hear First Amendment cases involving freedom of speech and religion if the Pledge of Allegiance is involved. The Act enshrines the words, under God, in its language.
If passed, citizens could be required to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, even if their religion forbids an oath of allegiance to a secular government, or if they have an objection to being forced to profess a belief in a god. If a state passed a law charging a citizen with a crime for not reciting the Pledge, the federal courts would have no power to hear the case. The only recourse would be the state courts.
But the proposed law has greater ramifications.
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The Pledge Protection Act sets a dangerous precedent. If passed by the Senate and signed into law, it would undermine the federal judiciary. Congress is attempting to take away the power of the federal courts to examine the constitutionality of laws it might pass.
The Act could be interpreted broadly to encompass other First Amendment infringements. Emboldened by precedent, using this template, Congress could create a whole host of laws infringing upon Bill of Rights freedomseven the Second Amendmentexempting those laws from constitutional challenges.
In co-sponsoring the bill, Manzullo is throwing our precious Bill of Rights out the window.
Manzullo is up for re-election on Nov. 2. To stand up for your rights, contact Manzullo in Washington, D.C., at (202)225-5676 phone and (202)225-5284 fax.
You may also remember him at the ballot box.
For more information, see FirstAmendmentCenter.org and ACLU.org.
Dawn M. Mueller is a Rockford resident.