‘Under God’ in Pledge of Allegiance discriminates against atheist children

A freethinking family in New Jersey is suing the local public school district, claiming the regular recitation of the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance discriminates against atheist and other non-theist children.

Religion Clause reports the American Humanist Association announced earlier this week that it has filed suit in a New Jersey state court challenging New Jersey’s statutory requirement that schools open each day with the Pledge of Allegiance that includes the phrase “under God.”  The complaint (full text) raises only state constitutional claims, and contends that the daily classroom exercise unconstitutionally discriminates on the basis of religion against plaintiffs who hold Humanist or atheist religious views.

The American Humanist Association claims that the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance violates Article 1 of the New Jersey Constitution, which states, “No person shall be denied the enjoyment of any civil or military right, nor be discriminated against in the exercise of any civil or military right, nor be segregated in the militia or in the public schools, because of religious principles, race, color, ancestry or national origin.”

The American Humanist Association also points out that the original version of the Pledge did not include the phrase “under God.” In fact, that wording was added in 1954, during the “godless communist” scare of the McCarthy era.

“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 American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center. “Such a daily exercise portrays atheist and humanist children as second-class citizens, and certainly contributes to anti-atheist prejudices.”

The fact is, it is wrong to ask students to take part in a pledge that makes atheists, freethinkers and other non-believers feel marginalized.

In the end, the daily exercise of reciting the phrase “under God” in public schools favors a particular religious view and defines patriotism according to a particular religious belief. This is wrong, and contrary to the secular values upon which this nation was founded.

The Pledge should be restored to its original version. The phrase “under God” should be removed. Children should not be made to feel that love of country is contingent upon belief in religious superstition.

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