Rodney Melville one of Judge’s Canter called about ‘under God’ issue

Posted by

Judge pledges ‘under God’ in court on Sept. 11 By Steve Corbett / Times Columnist On the morning of Wednesday, Sept. 11, Santa Maria Superior Court Judge Zel Canter donned his robe and did something he had never done in open court. The judge pledged allegiance to the flag. “Good morning,” Canter began. “We’re a small audience, but nonetheless, I think it’s wise to say something today, and, perhaps, hopefully, throughout the country we’re all saying things. “I know that the presiding judge sent us an e-mail each that said, perhaps, we ought to have a minute of silence to commemorate today, the 9-11 anniversary of people being tragically killed, and I think that’s true, and I just wanted to perhaps say something. “I don’t think I can speak for anyone in particular. I’m not a very good or articulate public speaker. “These premises used to be surrounded with collages of the great trials of American history, with the signatures and newspapers from the period beginning with the witch trials and John Peter Sanger in 1735, and going on up through the McCarthy hearings. “All that is now down at Pepperdine, but what is on my walls, back in the back, is Rockwell’s Four Freedoms, taken from the speech by Roosevelt, 1942, describing what we were fighting for in that time, and that’s what I think we’re fighting for now, when we’re under attack and we are at war with terror. “I think that is a reminder that those things we hold precious are at stake, and I think we should commemorate the memory of ordinary American citizens who found themselves used in and murdered in an attempt to attack us, and some who rose to — and maybe, many of whom, unsung, and forever unsung — rose to heroic levels to prevent further attacks, and dedicate today’s session of court to their memory. “I think it’s important to acknowledge that as it’s happening throughout the country today, various governments are meeting, the school boards, boards of commissions, supervisors, county commissions they have in Nevada courts, of all kinds, all over the place, the business of government is proceeding, government is in place. “We’re all partaking in it as we sit here, and it’s a wonderful thing. Our country is continuing to function, and we should take a moment to reflect, we are functioning. We are not under or hiding, that this is a time when we recognize the sacrifices made by our fellow citizens a year ago. “So, perhaps, it would be good if I pledged allegiance, if you would like to. I haven’t done that in a long time. Join me if you would like to.” With his hand over his heart, Canter faced the flag and led the small number of people in court for a civil proceeding in a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. “Thank you,” Canter said. Then he went on with the people’s business. The following day, surrounded by family photographs and memorabilia collected from his years on the bench, an emotional Canter sat in his chambers and reflected on what he had done. Concern for propriety arose as soon as the idea of publicly pledging allegiance entered the judge’s mind on his way to work. Scholarly and erudite, Canter knew that the words “under God” included in the pledge concern some people. Canter said he still doesn’t know for sure if his act was illegal or unethical. That’s why he called Presiding Judge Rodney Melville before he got to court. Melville didn’t know either, Canter said. “So we said ‘What the hell,’ ” Canter said with a laugh. Melville also opened his Wednesday session of court with a pledge of allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. In addition to checking with the boss, Canter had also quickly called a research lawyer. But the attorney didn’t have enough time to investigate thoroughly. So Canter ruled. While the words “under God” shape an ongoing national legal debate about the pledge’s constitutionality, Canter did what he thought was right. Is the judge judicious? Or do his heartfelt actions hijack the public trust that he has sworn to uphold? None of the judicial experts I asked about Canter’s decision called it illegal. Nobody called it wise, either. * Steve Corbett’s column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. He can be reached at (805) 739-2215 or e-mailed at Read Corbett online at www.santa Sept. 15, 2002 :nav Source:

Leave a Reply