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Humanists File Lawsuit Against “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance in New Jersey

School-sponsored Pledge violates state constitution’s equal protection law


For Immediate Release



Merrill Miller, merrillmiller@americanhumanist.org, 202-238-9088 ext. 105
David Niose, dniose@americanhumanist.org, 202-238-9088 ext.119

(Washington, DC—April 21, 2014)—A lawsuit was filed against a school district in New Jersey on behalf of a local family that objects to their child’s school conducting regular Pledge of Allegiance recitation with the words “under God.”

The case was filed by the American Humanist Association (AHA) on behalf of a Monmouth County family who wish to remain anonymous. It claims that daily school-sponsored recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance—declaring to students that the nation is “under God”—is discriminatory toward atheist children and their families. The American Humanist Association originally sent a letter of complaint to the superintendent of schools for the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District in Monmouth County on February 19, but the school system responded by saying it would not change the practice.

“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 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 points out that the original version of the Pledge did not include “under God” wording. That wording was added in 1954, during the McCarthy era.

“It's not the place of state governments to take a position on god-belief," said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. "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."

This case is similar to one awaiting a decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, Doe v. Acton-Boxborough Regional School District, based on that state’s constitutional equal rights protections. The Massachusetts case is also being handled by the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center.

Details of the lawsuit can be viewed here.

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Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington, DC, the American Humanist Association (AHA) works to protect the rights of humanists, atheists, and other non-religious Americans. The AHA advances the ethical and life-affirming philosophy of humanism, which—without beliefs in any gods or other supernatural forces—encourages individuals to live informed and meaningful lives that aspire to the greater good of humanity.

Special thanks to the Louis J. Appignani Foundation for their support of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center.