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Public Statements

Pledge Protection Act of 2004

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Location: Washington, DC


PLEDGE PROTECTION ACT OF 2004 -- (House of Representatives - September 23, 2004)

The SPEAKER pro tempore. Pursuant to House Resolution 781 and rule XVIII, the Chair declares the House in the Committee of the Whole House on the State of the Union for the consideration of the bill, H.R. 2028.

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Mr. AKIN. Mr. Chairman, we have heard a lot of legalese this morning, and perhaps trying to make a subject that is not very complicated a lot more complicated. The simple question is whether or not school kids are going to be able to say the Pledge of Allegiance the way we have done it for the last 50 years.

Some may say that is not that important an issue, but I would ask this question: If Members were asked, and perhaps it would be one of these big old TV cameras, and somebody came up and said, you have lived in America all these years, how would you, in the simplest form, describe what is the glue that holds us all together as Americans? What is the heart of America? If, like an onion, we peeled off the layers and got to the very center, what is it that makes America such a unique and special place? What is it that made people from all different nationalities come here and call themselves Americans? What is it that makes illegal immigrants try to come here? What is it that makes America special?

I think the answer can be found in our birthday document, our Declaration of Independence. It sets out essentially a three-part formula. It says we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, and among these is life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And it goes on to say the job of government is to protect those rights. The three-part formula is that there is a God; God grants all people everywhere certain basic fundamental rights; and it is the job of government to protect those rights.

Now, if we allow activist judges to start creating law and say it is wrong to somehow allow school children to say "under God" in the Pledge, we have emasculated the very heart of what America has always been about.

This is quite simply a matter of judges turning the first amendment upside down. The first amendment was supposed to be about free speech, religious or political free speech, and now these judges are censoring our very Pledge of Allegiance and telling school kids they cannot say the Pledge. If we allow activist judges to go there, what is next?

Behind me, set in brass above the Speaker's desk, "In God we trust." Is this a sense of the co-equal power of the branches of government that the court can next step in here and take "In God we trust" off that? Are they going to tell us we cannot have chaplains? Are they going to go to the Jefferson Monument that has in stone that God that gave us life, gave us liberties, and can the liberties of the people be secure if we remove the conviction that those liberties are the gift of God? Is that going to be plastered over? Are we going to get rid of the Gettysburg Address? How far will we let them go?

Yet my colleagues have been arguing that anything the court says; it is unconstitutional to challenge the Supreme Court. In my State of Missouri, the Dred Scott decision was brought, and the Supreme Court said black people are not actually people. That was a dumb decision, and we need to be able to tell the Supreme Court or any other court that makes ridiculous decisions they are wrong. Yet we are hearing it is off base to try to check their authority. It is the job of the other two branches of government to draw up short the judiciary when they exceed their constitutional authority. And legislating from the bench and using the first amendment as a tool of censorship certainly qualifies that we should weigh in.

Mr. Chairman, I would close by saying that I have heard a number of assertions that there is absolutely no precedent to use article III section 2. And yet, if Members were to simply check with the congressional research people, as our office has done, they would tell Members they cannot print them all out there are so many examples. In the 107th Congress, most of us voted for the PATRIOT Act. The PATRIOT Act has article III section 2 language in it, and we have it used in all kinds and numbers of ways.

A certain prominent Senator from South Dakota made an amendment to a bill that said we are going to clear the undergrowth from the forest of the Black Hills. That, of course, is against environmental law, but the problem is that all that undergrowth was fueling forest fires. This particular gentleman made the comment and put it into law, regardless of what any Federal court says, we are going to clear the undergrowth. Another use of the limitation of the appellate jurisdiction of the courts. There are numerous cases to that regard. Certainly, these charges are completely and factually inaccurate.

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Mr. AKIN. Mr. Chairman, I claim the time in opposition to the amendment, and I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Chairman, the reason why we should vote against this amendment is fairly basic and pretty simple mathematics, and that is, in the last decision, when the Newdow case was thrown out on standing, that decision made it clear that there are only three chief justices who support the Pledge of Allegiance, and three is not enough to keep "under God" in the pledge.

Now, what this amendment is going to do is it is going to allow the Supreme Court to hear additional or any future challenges to the Pledge of Allegiance. And when the current court hears that challenge, we are struck with that simple mathematics, that there are only three votes on the Supreme Court that would keep "under God" in the Pledge.

Mr. Chairman, I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. AKIN. Mr. Chairman, I yield 2 minutes to my good friend, the gentleman from South Carolina (Mr. Barrett).

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Mr. AKIN. Mr. Chairman, I yield 4 minutes to my distinguished colleague, the gentleman from Indiana (Mr. Hostettler).

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Mr. AKIN. Mr. Chairman, I reserve the balance of my time.

Mr. WATT. Mr. Chairman, who has the right to close?

The CHAIRMAN pro tempore. The gentleman from North Carolina (Mr. Watt).

Mr. WATT. Mr. Chairman, I reserve the balance of my time.

Mr. AKIN. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Chairman, it is interesting. I have heard a number of people here professing that they think the words "under God" in the Pledge are a good thing to have. I have even heard that developed even further in references to Jefferson and to the second inaugural address of Lincoln which made references to God. And there seems to be a pretty good consensus that we want to leave the Pledge as it is.

But the interesting thing is that this amendment would clearly not leave the Pledge as it is. But I guess my question is, and we are getting to a very fundamental kind of question about what our job is as legislators here, and the question is, is it our responsibility to be a co-equal branch of government. If we really believe in the words "under God" in the Pledge, do we assert ourselves or do we roll over if the court decides they want to take something out that has been there for 50 years.

I guess it goes down to the very first day when we come down here to serve in this body and we put our hands up and we take an oath that says that we will uphold the Constitution. And that means that we are one of three co-equal branches of government. And yet today, what I hear people saying is with their lips, I like the words "under God," but I will not lift a finger, in fact, I will vote for an amendment to make sure that under God gets stripped out the next time this thing takes a trip to the Supreme Court.

I guess my question is, how bad does it have to get before we assert our authority? I mean, how far does some activist judge have to go? You just use your imagination, is not there some point when we say enough already? The fact is historically, the fact that we have a right to recognize that is long recognized. There was a number of references to Marbury versus Madison, of course that was coming out of Marshall's court. It is just interesting to note that Chief Justice Marshall recognized our constitutional right to limit the appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court in Druso versus the U.S.

So this is clear-cut. It is something that has always been, but we do not want to somehow do our job. We do not want to exercise the authority the Constitution gives us.

There are repeated cases, others that have not been mentioned, Barry versus Merson. This is one that says the Supreme Court ruled that its appellate power was limited because Congress had neither expressly nor implicitly given the appellate jurisdiction in a class of cases involving the writ of habeas corpus in child custody. Then we have the other one, Wiskert versus Douchey where it says, if Congress has provided no rule to regulate our proceedings, we cannot exercise appellate jurisdiction, and if the rule is provided we cannot depart from it.

I had a couple of things I wanted to say in closing. That is, there is a certain point where the courts go too far. We know where the votes are on the Supreme Court. In the last decision when Newdow was struck down, it is clear, the fact remains that there are only three votes that are going to uphold "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. If you support "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, you will have to vote this amendment down because what this amendment does is it opens a hole that the Supreme Court can take this case out of State courts.

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