A New Jersey judge has thrown out an atheist-led lawsuit that argued that "under God" is a violation of the state's constitution, derailing activists' latest attempt to remove the decades-old wording from the Pledge of Allegiance — and handing a victory to a faithful teenager who had battled to keep the wording in tact.
As TheBlaze previously reported, activist groups have traditionally used the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to go after the Pledge, but the American Humanist Association, a secular group, started embracing a new strategy last year after atheists repeatedly lost court battles to strike down the language; they began framing arguments using state constitutions.
The court battle started last February when an unnamed family in New Jersey filed a lawsuit against Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District in Aberdeen, New Jersey, arguing through representation by the American Humanist Association that mentioning God in the Pledge of Allegiance constituted discrimination against nonbelievers, violating the equal protection clause of New Jersey’s constitution.
Frank and Michele Jones (left) and their family (The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty)
The lawsuit also questioned the history surrounding the recitation — a controversial developmental time-line that TheBlaze has covered in detail.
“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 at the time. “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 had argued, though, that officials have merely been 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.
The court battle only intensified last year when Samantha Jones, a senior at Highland Regional High School in Blackwood, New Jersey, joined her family in officially filing a response to the American Humanist Association lawsuit, defending the presence of "under God" in the Pledge.
In the end, though, atheists' new tactic led to a loss for atheist activists, with Jones speaking out in favor of the lawsuit's Friday dismissal.
"I’m so grateful the court decided that kids like me shouldn’t be silenced just because some people object to timeless American values," she said in a statement distributed through her attorneys at the Becket Fund.
Jones continued,"Ever since I was little, I’ve recited the Pledge of Allegiance because it sums up the values that make our country great. The phrase ‘under God’ protects all Americans — including atheists — because it reminds the government that it can’t take away basic human rights because it didn’t create them."
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State Superior Court Judge David Bauman had already expressed doubts about the atheist-led lawsuit during oral arguments back in November, noting that he saw no evidence of the bullying or mistreatment of atheists as a result of "under God," according to Fox News.
This is the second loss that the American Humanist Associated has suffered after shifting gears to rely on state constitutions. As TheBlaze previously reported, the Supreme Judicial Court in the state of Massachusetts rejected a similar lawsuit last May that also claimed that the recitation violated secular students’ rights.