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Atheist Lawsuit Embraces New Tactic in Attempt to Strip 'Under God' From Pledge of Allegiance


"The current pledge practice marginalizes atheist and humanist kids as something less than ideal patriots..."

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A family in New Jersey is suing a local school district in an effort to have the words "under God" removed from the Pledge of Allegiance, embracing a new strategy to use the state's constitution to go after the popular recitation.

The lawsuit against Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District in Aberdeen, N.J., was filed this week by the American Humanist Association, a secular activist group, on behalf of parents who wish to remain anonymous, USA Today reported.

The organization and the family are arguing that mentioning God in the Pledge of Allegiance constitutes discrimination against atheists under the New Jersey constitution.

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"It’s not the place of state governments to take a position on god-belief," Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association, told Religion News Service. "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."

The school district's lawyer, though, said that officials are merely following state law, which requires daily recitation of the pledge.

While the district offers the recitation in its seven elementary, middle and high schools, students are not required to participate.

"All we are doing is abiding by requirements of state law, we and approximately 590 other school districts in the state," said attorney David Rubin. "If the group who's brought this lawsuit questions the wisdom of that policy or the legality of it, we believe their arguments are much better directed to the state Legislature who's imposed this requirement on us, rather than suing an individual school district on this matter."

But the American Humanist Association believes that "under God" violates the equal protection clause of New Jersey's constitution. The lawsuit also questions the history surrounding the recitation.

"The language 'under God' was added to the pledge at the height of the McCarthy era and the Red Scare, after strong lobbying by religious groups, at a time when many felt it would help to distinguish America from the communist Soviet Union,'' it reads, in part. "The Soviet Union fell in 1991, and the need, if there ever was any, to distinguish America in this manner from communist adversaries no longer exists.''

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Other states have faced similar lawsuits, including one in Massachusetts that has yet to be settled. As Religion News Service has noted, using state constitutions to go after the Pledge of Allegiance is a relatively new strategic approach.

Rather than using the U.S. Constitution as their basis, the plaintiffs in both the New Jersey and Massachusetts cases, are claiming that the use of “under God" is a violation of state law.

In covering the Massachusetts case last year, Religion News Service reported that this intentional strategy follows a blueprint that was used by gay rights advocates a decade ago.

In 2003, Massachusetts became the first state to issue gay marriage licenses, using equal rights laws to secure a win. Later, other states followed this model. In the case of the pledge in these states, a win for atheist families could spark similar patterns and lawsuits in other localities.

(H/T: USA Today)


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