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Pastor pledges a land 'under God'

The Rev. Jerry Waugh uses a sermon marking the Fourth of July to warn of trends in America.

By JOY DAVIS-PLATT, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 2, 2002

SPRING HILL -- The Rev. Jerry Waugh had planned a Sunday morning service to mark the Fourth of July holiday, but his ministering took on added significance after last week's federal court ruling in California that outlawed use of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools because of the words "under God."

"We are so concerned about offending everyone else, is anyone concerned that we might be offending God?" he asked a congregation of about 300 at a midmorning service at Northcliffe Baptist Church in Spring Hill on Sunday.

Even though the ruling had no legal weight in Florida and was soon blocked by the judge that issued it, the ruling sparked the pastor's sermon and the concern of many of his parish.

After the service, church member Cathy Mara said she was touched by how quickly people forget their faith in God when times are good.

"It's amazing now that things are better and we're doing better, something like this comes up," she said. "All those people who needed God after Sept. 11 have gone back to sleep. It's as if it wasn't a wakeup call at all."

Beneath American flags hanging from the sanctuary balcony, Waugh said that the court ruling indicates a trend in America. He spoke of warning signs over the past four decades, including an increase in immorality, rising crime rates, laws conflicting with religious doctrine and attacks against the presence of God.

"We will reap what we sow," he told the congregation. "We have been sowing a nation giving little attention to God."

The ruling by the California-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this week drew national attention. Two judges from that court ruled that the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance threatened church-state separation. The senior judge stayed its ruling, which affected only nine Western states.

The lawsuit, brought by Sacramento physician Michael Newdow, said it is his right as a parent to say that he doesn't want the government telling his child what to believe.

The Pledge of Allegiance was made official in 1942 and the words "under God" were added in 1954 during the Cold War. National leaders thought it was a good way to distinguish the United States from "godless" communist countries. Although half the states require schools to include the pledge in their programs, individual students can opt out because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1943 that no child can be forced to recite it.

Grace Anderson has been a member of the church for three years and called the sermon heart-wrenching. Still, she remembered feeling sad when she saw news of the court ruling on a news program.

"All I can think is that we should hold those people up for prayer," she said. "There are so many that live in darkness."

The United States was not based on the tenets of democracy or free enterprise, Waugh told the congregation, but on a belief in God and his principles.

"A few months after Sept. 11, we have reverted to trying to oust God from our Pledge of Allegiance," he said. "The greatest threat to the United States is not from without. It is from within."

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