Sorry the story is long, but I think it is worth it. Sounds like this thing is heating up faster then those fires out west. NBC, MSNBC AND NEWS SERVICES June 26 â€” A federal appeals court declared the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional Wednesday, finding that the words â€œunder Godâ€ amounted to an endorsement of religion. Reaction to the ruling, which President Bush called â€œridiculous,â€ was swift, as the Senate voted 99 to 0 to urge the court to reverse itself and a House member introduced a constitutional amendment to preserve the pledge as written. IF ALLOWED to stand, the 2-1 ruling by a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco would prevent children in public schools in nine Western states from reciting the pledge. The decision, which was handed down in the middle of a fiercely contested midterm election season, triggered expressions of outrage from across the political spectrum. â€œThe view of the White House is that this was a wrong decision, and the Department of Justice is now evaluating how to seek redress,â€ White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said in a statement. â€œ... This decision will not sit well with the American people, and it certainly does not sit well with the president of the United States.â€ Fleischer, who said Bush characterized the ruling as â€œridiculous,â€ added that when the president visited Arizona on Tuesday to meet with people whose homes had been destroyed by wildfires, â€œthe thing he said that brought the most warmth and hope to those people ... was, â€˜Have faith in God Almighty.â€™ â€ Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., offered a resolution condemning the ruling and re-affirming the use of the words â€œunder God,â€ which Congress added to the pledge in 1954, at the height of the Cold War. The resolution, which passed 99-0, instructed the Senateâ€™s legal counsel to seek to intervene in the case to defend the constitutionality of the pledge. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., who is recuperating at home after heart surgery, was the only senator to miss the vote. After the vote, Daschle urged senators to show up Thursday morning to recite the pledge. CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT DRAFTED It took only a few hours for a constitutional amendment to preserve the pledge to materialize. It came from Rep. Charles W. Pickering, R-Miss., who was thrown into a difficult battle for re-election against fellow Rep. Ronnie Shows, D-Miss., by the redistricting process. In a floor speech, Pickering called the San Francisco courtâ€™s ruling an â€œunfortunate assault on Americaâ€™s tradition of recognizing the role of God in our countryâ€™s life and as a foundation of our liberties.â€ â€œThis most outrageous decision cannot and will not stand,â€ he vowed. Meanwhile, about 100 House members, led by Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., gathered on the east steps of the Capitol to recite the pledge and sing â€œGod Bless America.â€ â€œA judge who believes the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional doesnâ€™t belong on the bench,â€ said Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas. â€œI hope the court returns all the taxpayer money they have been paid in currency marked â€˜In God We Trust.â€™ â€ Reaction was not unanimous, however. â€œWe believe the courtâ€™s finding was correct and is consistent with recent Supreme Court rulings invalidating prayer at school events,â€ the American Civil Liberties Union said in a statement. â€œ... Schools can and should teach tolerance and good citizenship but must not favor one religion over another or belief over non-belief.â€ The Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said the decision was long overdue. â€œWhere you interject the controversy about religion into it, you turn a proclamation of patriotism into a religious creed, and that is something Congress should not do,â€ said Lynn, an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. ENDORSING RELIGION? In overturning the act of Congress that inserted the phrase â€œunder Godâ€ in the pledge, the court said the language amounted to a government endorsement of religion, which, it said, violated the First Amendmentâ€™s Establishment Clause. â€œCongress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,â€ the amendment says. Some scholars have argued that the phrase â€œestablishment of religionâ€ refers to â€œestablishedâ€ churches â€” official churches supported by taxpayer dollars, which some states had at the time the Constitution was adopted in 1789. Connecticut and Massachusetts maintained their tax-supported Congregational churches until the 1820s. According to this view, the Establishment Clause was simply intended to prevent Congress from setting up a national, taxpayer-supported church. But in the past several decades, courts have used the Establishment Clause to outlaw state financial aid to church-connected schools and to ban the display on government property of a Christmas crÃ¨che with a banner proclaiming â€œGloria in Excelsis Deo.â€ â€œA profession that we are a nation â€˜under Godâ€™ is identical, for Establishment Clause purposes, to a profession that we are a nation â€˜under Jesus,â€™ a nation â€˜under Vishnu,â€™ a nation â€˜under Zeus,â€™ or a nation â€˜under no god,â€™ because none of these professions can be neutral with respect to religion,â€ Judge Alfred T. Goodwin wrote for the three-judge panel. He was joined in the decision by Judge Stephen Reinhardt. The court said that an atheist or a holder of certain non-Judeo-Christian beliefs could see the phrase as an endorsement of monotheism â€” a belief in a single god. The appeals court noted that when President Dwight Eisenhower signed the 1954 legislation, he wrote that â€œmillions of our schoolchildren will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and rural schoolhouse, the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty.â€ INVOCATIONS RULINGS CITED The court also cited Supreme Court decisions saying students could not hold religious invocations at graduations and could not be compelled to recite the pledge. But even when the pledge is recited in a classroom, the appeals court said, a student who objects is confronted with an â€œunacceptable choice between participating and protesting.â€ â€œAlthough students cannot be forced to participate in recitation of the pledge, the school district is nonetheless conveying a message of state endorsement of a religious belief when it requires public school teachers to recite, and lead the recitation of, the current form of the pledge,â€ said the court, which has frequently seen its decisions overturned by the Supreme Court. In a dissent, Judge Ferdinand Fernandez said the phrase had no tendency to establish religion or suppress anyoneâ€™s ability to exercise the religion of his or her choice, â€œexcept in the fevered eye of persons who most fervently would like to drive all tincture of religion out of public life.â€ He said the ruling, if it stood, would preclude the singing of â€œGod Bless Americaâ€ and â€œAmerica the Beautifulâ€ in schools. The 9th Circuit covers Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington state, and only those states are directly affected by the ruling. However, it will not take effect for several months, to allow further appeals. The government can ask the full 9th Circuit Court to reconsider, or it can take its case to the Supreme Court. SACRAMENTO CASE The case was brought by Michael A. Newdow, a Sacramento atheist who acted as his own attorney. Newdow objected because his second-grade daughter was required to recite the pledge at the Elk Grove Unified School District. He sued, and a federal judge dismissed the case. The 9th Circuitâ€™s decision Wednesday remanded the case back for trial. â€œIâ€™m an American citizen. I donâ€™t like my rights infringed upon by my government,â€ Newdow said in a recent interview. Newdow called the pledge a â€œreligious idea that certain people donâ€™t agree with.â€ Newdow, a physician, filed a similar suit in Florida on behalf of his daughter in 1998, but that suit was dismissed because his daughter was not yet of school age. He filed the suit ruled on Wednesday after his daughter began attending public schools in Sacramento. NBCâ€™s Pete Williams, MSNBC.comâ€™s Tom Curry and Alex Johnson, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.