SAN FRANCISCO (AFP) – A federal appeals court in California ruled Thursday that the references to God on US bank notes and in the pledge of allegiance to the US flag are constitutional and not religious in nature.
By a two-to-one margin, the three judges overturned their own 2002 ruling that sided with atheist Michael Newdow's complaint that the God mentions established religion and violated the constitutionally mandated separation of church and state.
"We hold it does not -- the pledge is constitutional," said the majority ruling, referring to the vow of allegiance made by children in public schools every morning to the US flag, which includes the line: "One nation under God..."
The pledge was amended in 1954 under president Dwight Eisenhower to include the controversial reference to God.
The panel's decision applies equally to the phrase, "In God we trust," printed on every US bank note and coin in circulation.
"The pledge of allegiance serves to unite our vast nation through the proud recitation of some of the ideals upon which our Republic was founded and for which we continue to strive," the two judges said.
The lone dissenter argued however that the majority's were wrong in asserting that the words "under God" found in the 1954 amendment to the pledge were simply a reference to the limited powers of the federal government.
"That is, of course, an argument dreamt up by my colleagues that can nowhere be found in the congressional record," the dissenting judge said.
"My colleagues have apparently forgotten that it is the Constitution that sets forth the limitations on government power -- not, as far as our laws are concerned, God," the judge added.