A West Virginia University expert in constitutional law thinks yesterdays (June 26) federal appeals court decision in California to bar classroom recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance may be overturned because it violates First Amendment rights.

Wednesday’s ruling was in response to an atheist’s bid to keep his second-grade daughter from being exposed to religion in school. In a 2-1 decision in favor of Michael Newdow, the panel took issue with the words”under God”in the pledge.

WVU Law Professor Robert Bastress said the pledges reference to God was added as a ceremonial gesture in the late 1950s and could be considered unconstitutional and a violation of first amendment rights granting freedom of speech and religion.

“There are lots of conflicting authorities on the constitutionality of its inclusion or exclusion, based primarily on freedom of religion and speech questions,”he said,”so I would not be surprised if the full 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned this decision.”

He said confusion and controversy has always surrounded this issue since 1954 when President Dwight Eisenhower signed the insertion of the phrase”under God”into law.

Circuit Judge Alfred T. Goodwin said leading schoolchildren in a pledge that says the United States is”one nation under God”is as objectionable as making them say”we are a nation `under Jesus,’a nation `under Vishnu,’a nation `under Zeus,’or a nation `under no god,’because none of these professions can be neutral with respect to religion.”

If allowed to stand, the ruling from the nation’s most-overturned court would bar schoolchildren from reciting the pledgeat least in the nine Western states the 9th Circuit covers. The decision does not take effect for several months.