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Pledge of Allegiance lawsuit: New Jersey atheists file suit over 'God' in Pledge

A “Pledge of Allegiancelawsuit has been filed by a national humanist group over the contentious phrase “under God,” which first appeared in our nation’s flag pledge in 1954. The group is suing a New Jersey school district on behalf of a family that believes any reference to God in the Pledge of Allegiance is discriminatory toward atheist children. As the video above showed, this is not the first time the controversial expression has been fought on the federal or state level.

Children recite the morning Pledge of Allegiance.
Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

According to CBS News on April 21, the lawsuit was filed against the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District last month by the American Humanist Association – a non-profit advocacy group that seeks “progressive values and equality for humanists, atheists, and freethinkers,” and has as its motto: “Good without God.” The lawsuit claims the “under God” phrase “marginalizes atheist and humanist kids as something less than ideal patriots.”

David Niose, legal director of the American Humanist Association, told WCBS 880 Radio in New York that the lawsuit, filed on behalf of two anonymous parents, does not challenge the First Amendment to the Constitution, as other such court cases have claimed. Rather, Niose says forcing unbelieving individuals to acknowledge a Divine being is in itself unconstitutional. “The lawsuit is an equal protection suit seeking to declare unconstitutional the New Jersey state law requiring daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag in public schools,” Niose said.

“Children are taught that patriotism is defined a certain way. They're taught to associate belief in God with patriot feelings. Certainly, with that being taught, the atheists look like an outsider. The atheist is stigmatized,” he said. A similar case is Massachusetts is awaiting a decision on a federal level.

Matawan-Aberdeen’s district lawyer David Rubin says the district is merely following the state law that requires all schools to have a morning recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. That said, individual students cannot be made to participate, and can opt out of the Pledge if their religious beliefs, conscience, or in the case of an atheist, their non-belief, precludes them from pledging their loyalty to a political entity and or recognizing a god.

Some young children do not take part in the daily Pledge of Allegiance because of religious reasons. For example, Jehovah’s Witness children choose to stand respectfully but do not participate is the recital of the pledge. Says their website, JW.org: “Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that bowing down to a flag or saluting it, often in conjunction with an anthem, is a religious act that ascribes salvation, not to God, but to the State or to its leaders.” Such an act of worship is anathema to scriptural principles as found at Isaiah 43:11, 1 Corinthians 10:14 and John 5:21, among others.

Reports the CSMonitor: “Jehovah’s Witnesses, who believe the pledge constitutes idolatry, have been sitting out the pledge for a very long time, notes Eric Rassbach of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, one of two defense attorneys in the Massachusetts case. They won the right from the Supreme Court in 1943, when the court ruled that 'compulsory unification of opinion' is unconstitutional.” See the first linked article below for more information.

Niose says that public schools should not permit an exercise that “teaches students that patriotism is tied to a belief in God,” adding that “such a daily exercise portrays atheist and humanist children as second-class citizens, and certainly contributes to anti-atheist prejudices,” Niose said in a statement reported Fox News.