By Hannan Adely, The Record (Hackensack, N.J.)
HACKENSACK, N.J. — A Monmouth County family is suing a New Jersey school district, alleging that the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance is discriminatory because it asks students to pledge “under God.”
The family, represented by the American Humanist Association, claims that the daily pledge discriminates against atheists and violates the right to equal protection under the state constitution. The association works to make sure atheists are treated equally in society. The lawsuit was filed in state Superior Court against the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District and its superintendent, David M. Healy.
Public schools in New Jersey are required under state statute to have students salute the flag and recite the Pledge of Allegiance on each school day. The plaintiffs, parents of a minor who goes to school in the district, said that as atheists they do not accept the existence of a God or gods. They argue that the “under God” part of the pledge maligns their religious beliefs and calls their patriotism into question.
The “under God” language also fuels prejudice against atheists by casting them as outsiders and creating an “official public atmosphere of disapproval” of their religious views, said the plaintiffs, who filed the lawsuit anonymously.
Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the Washington D.C.-based American Humanist Association, said public schools should not engage in an activity that tells students patriotism is tied to belief in God.
“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,” Speckhardt said.
David B. Rubin, a lawyer for the Matawan-Aberdeen district, said the district is following state law that requires the pledge to be said daily. The federal courts have upheld the constitutionality of the pledge in schools, he added, as long as students who object are not required to participate.
“We are disappointed that this national organization has targeted Matawan-Aberdeen for merely obeying the law as it stands,” Rubin said in a written statement.
The Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892 and the words “under God” were added in 1954, partly because of concerns about communism. There have been other unsuccessful federal and state lawsuits that challenged the words “under God” in the pledge.
The American Humanist Association is also awaiting a decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court that challenges the phrasing of the pledge in public schools in that state.
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