A New Jersey family has filed a lawsuit against the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District, claiming its use of the Pledge of Allegiance is discriminatory toward their atheist daughter.
At the center of the lawsuit are the words “under God,” which were added to the Pledge in 1954.
This is not the first time the words have come under legal attack. Massachusetts’ high court saw a similar lawsuit earlier this year, ruling that the pledge was not discriminatory.
Attorney for the American Humanist Association David Niose, who is representing the unnamed New Jersey family, said the Massachusetts court was “simply wrong” to focus on the pledge being a voluntary act.
“Harm is occurring every day the state is invalidating the plaintiff’s religious class,” he said under questioning by state Superior Court Judge David Bauman.
Children in the school district are not required to take part in the pledge, and Bauman added that there was no evidence that the child in question had been “bullied, ostracized or in any way mistreated.”
However, he also said that district policy does ask that an explanation be provided in writing by parents whose children choose to not participate in the pledge.
District Attorney David Rubin said he was unaware of a case that saw parents’ refusal to offer an explanation, nor was he aware of the punishment for doing so. Rubin felt the plaintiffs filed the lawsuit “masquerading as an equal protection case.”
Rubin continued by saying the pledge is not a religious exercise, but rather “an innocuous reference to the deity in a ceremonial setting.” Because the pledge has been ruled by several courts to not establish a religion, he said “then you’re left with something going on in school that offends their religious sensibilities.”
According to Rubin, allowing the lawsuit to continue would be similar to allowing students to take school days off for religious reasons but then suing because the school stayed open for other students.
A ruling has not been issued by Bauman concerning the district’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, although one is expected shortly.
Bauman asked both sides whether finding different terminology for “under God,” such as “created by great white men” could be taken as discriminatory toward women and minorities. He continued by asking Niose about New Jersey’s constitution, which mentions an “Almighty God,” noting that the pledge does not mention a specific God.
“This is a state-sponsored and state-conducted exercise that happens every single day,” Niose argued. “It’s done every single day, for every student in all classrooms. It’s not like a biology lesson or a sex education class or a controversial novel a class will have to read. It’s intended to instill patriotism and to define patriotism.”