An atheist family is suing New Jersey’s Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District over the “under God” phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance.
The suit was filed on Saturday by the American Humanist Association. The family behind the lawsuit wishes to remain anonymous for “fear of public hostility” and “ostracism.”
In February, the AHA submitted a letter to the school district’s superintendent requesting that the school’s practice be changed. However, the request was rejected, prompting the AHA to pursue legal action.
The lawsuit claims that the practice of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance every day violates the constitution. The family has stated that the “under God” phrase is discriminatory in that it marginalizes secular children as second-class citizens.
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Furthermore, the lawsuit states that the parents of the family filing the claim – referred to as Jane and John Doe – have “personally experienced the public’s prejudice against atheists.”
“They have been told directly that atheists are ‘arrogant for not believing in God,’” the lawsuit notes.
The American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center’s attorney David Niose stated that, “public schools should not engage in an exercise that tells students that patriotism is tied to a belief in God.”
Niose continued on to state that the daily reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance, with its “under God” phrase, “certainly contributes to anti-atheist prejudices.”
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School district lawyer David Rubin has said the district is simply following a state law that requires schools to recite the pledge on a daily basis. Individual students, Rubin said, do not have to participate.
The “under God” phrase was added to the Pledge in 1954; since then, it has been challenged by numerous lawsuits that claim the phrase violates the separation of church and state. Although none of these lawsuits have yet been successful, a similar AHA case is currently awaiting a decision in the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.