Humanist Attorneys: Keep God out of daily patriotic exercises
For Immediate Release
(Washington, DC—Feb. 19, 2014)—Daily school-sponsored recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance – declaring in a patriotic context to students that the nation is “under God” – is discriminatory toward atheist children and their families, a New Jersey public school system’s administrators are being told.
A letter was sent today from the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center to David M. Healy, superintendent of schools for the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District in Monmouth County, stating that the practice “portray[s] God-belief as synonymous with patriotism, while portraying atheists as second-class citizens,” a violation of the New Jersey state constitution. “This exercise, conducted daily throughout the public school career of every student, instills an unfair and irrational anti-atheist prejudice in children, and we hereby demand that the school district immediately discontinue the practice,” the letter stipulates. The group said it is prepared to litigate if the practice continues.
“New Jersey’s constitution is clear that religion can’t be the basis for state-sponsored discrimination,” said Appignani Humanist Legal Center attorney Monica Miller. “No public school system should engage in an exercise that purposely tells atheist and humanist students that the only valid form of patriotism is one that includes god-belief.”
The letter suggests one option to resolve the unconstitutional behavior “would be to simply adopt the nondiscriminatory version of the pledge, used widely for many years, that did not include the ‘under God’ wording.” The phrase “under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954.
Administrators have been asked to reply within 30 days.
This case is similar to one awaiting a decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, Doe v. Acton-Boxborough Regional School District, in that it is based on a state’s constitutional equal rights protections, not the U.S. Constitution or other federal laws. The Massachusetts case is also being handled by the Appignani Humanist Legal Center.
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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.