A family represented by a humanist group is suing a Monmouth County school district, claiming that the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance is discriminatory because it asks students to use the phrase “under God.”
According to NorthJersey.com, the American Humanist Association alleges that the Pledge of Allegiance discriminates against atheists and violates the right to equal protection under New Jersey’s state constitution. The lawsuit was filed in the state’s Superior Court against the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District and its superintendent David M. Healy.
Under New Jersey statutes, public schools are required to have students salute the flag and recite the Pledge each school day. The plaintiffs, parents of a child in the school district who filed the lawsuit anonymously, argue that, as atheists, they do not accept the existence of God or gods. They claim that the phrase “under God” smears their religious beliefs and allows their patriotism to be doubted.
In addition, the parents allege that the phrase “under God” incites prejudice against atheists by portraying them as outsiders and creating an “official public atmosphere of disapproval” of their religious views.
Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based American Humanist Association, asserts that public schools should not promote the notion that patriotism is tied to belief in God.
“The current Pledge practice marginalizes atheist and humanist kids as something less than ideal patriots, merely because they don’t believe the nation is under God,” Speckhardt says.
However, David B. Rubin, an attorney for the Matawan-Aberdeen district, states the district is following state law that requires the Pledge to be recited daily. In addition, he observes that the federal courts have upheld the constitutionality of the Pledge of Allegiance in schools, as long as students who object are not required to participate.
“We are disappointed that this national organization has targeted Matawan-Aberdeen for merely obeying the law as it stands,” Rubin comments in a written statement.
The American Humanist Association awaits another decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court that also challenges the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools in that state.