New Jersey lawsuit seeks to ban Pledge of Allegiance, claims religious discriminationcomment (0)
May 1, 2014
The American Humanist Association (AHA) is suing a New Jersey school district for its recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in public classrooms.
The lawsuit, brought on behalf of a local family in central New Jersey, asserts the mandatory recitation of the pledge is discriminatory against nonbelievers because it includes the phrase “under God.”
The lawsuit, filed against Monmouth County’s Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District, is the second case that reflects a change in strategy against the pledge. It contends the pledge violates a state constitution’s protection against religious discrimination; previous cases held the pledge violates the U.S. Constitution’s ban on the establishment of religion.
The first such case, also brought by the AHA, is awaiting a decision in the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. That case, brought by atheist parents of a public school child, claims the “under God” phrase violates the state’s equal rights laws.
Lawyers for the parents in the New Jersey lawsuit issued a statement April 21 announcing the suit.
“Public schools should not engage in an exercise that tells students that patriotism is tied to a belief in God,” said David Niose, attorney for the AHA Humanist Legal Center, which represents the parents. “Such a daily exercise portrays atheist and humanist children as second-class citizens and certainly contributes to anti-atheist prejudices.”
A lawyer for the New Jersey school district responded to the lawsuit by saying the district is following a state law that requires schools to have a daily recitation of the pledge.
The AHA argues the pledge violates the New Jersey Constitution’s protection against discrimination due to “religious principles, race, color, ancestry or national origin.”
The Pledge of Allegiance did not contain the phrase “under God” until 1954 when it was added by a vote of Congress as a protection against “godless Communism.”
Majority of Americans want to keep ‘under God’ in pledge
A telephone survey of 1,001 Americans from Nashville-based LifeWay Research found that 85 percent want to keep “under God” in the pledge.
Researchers did find 1 in 4 Americans (25 percent) believe forcing students to say “under God” violates their rights. But less than 1 in 10 (8 percent) Americans want to remove “under God” from the pledge.
The survey results show little support for changing the pledge, said Scott McConnell, director of LifeWay Research.
“Most Americans have recited the pledge hundreds of times and are not inclined to memorize a different pledge,” he said. “Changing it may just feel wrong. Most Americans say they believe in God or a higher being and feel comfortable having ‘under God’ in the pledge.”
The study by LifeWay also found younger Americans are more likely to support removal of “under God” from the pledge. Fourteen percent of those ages 18–29 want to remove the phrase, compared to 5 percent of those over 64.
Women (88 percent) are more likely to want to keep “under God” than men (83 percent). Americans with a college degree are more likely (13 percent) to want it removed. And self-identified born again, evangelical or fundamentalist Christians are most likely (94 percent) to say “under God” should remain.