A family in the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District of New Jersey is suing the local school district and its superintendent to remove the phrase “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance, which is, by state law required to be recited every school day. According to Kathleen Hopkins and Amanda Oglesby of The Asbury Park (N.J.) Press, the suit is also filed by the American Humanist Association.
The plaintiffs feel that acknowledging God in the pledge discriminates against atheists. The attorney for the district, David Rubin, states that the school is acting according to state law. He adds that there are 590 other New Jersey school districts that are doing the same. It was the opinion of Mr. Rubin that the parties’ complaints should be directed to the State Legislature.
Humanists differ from atheists, although they share their rejection of the idea of deities. Humanists believe in values that are grounded in the philosophy of the Enlightenment, informed by scientific knowledge, and driven by a desire to meet the needs of people in the here and now. In New Jersey, there are more than 24,800 members of the Humanist community and 180 chapters.
Rubin reminded parents of children in the district that students who disagreed with the contents of the pledge were not required to participate in its recitation. Federal courts determined in 1943 that students could not be compelled to recite or stand for the pledge, but the plaintiffs in the New Jersey suit argue that the daily choice not to participate:
“publicly disparages plaintiffs’ religious beliefs, calls plaintiffs’ patriotism into question, portrays plaintiffs as outsiders and second-class citizens, and forces (the child) to choose between nonparticipation in a patriotic exercise or participation in a patriotic exercise that is invidious to him and his religious class.”
The suit adds that atheists are the most disliked and distrusted group in the country. When their children do not participate, there is the possibility of ridicule from fellow-students or teachers.
The original pledge was written in 1892 by socialist minister Francis Bellamy, who intended it to be a pledge for all countries. “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” In 1923 “of the United Sates of America” was added. The next change was the 1954 addition of “under God”.
“The language ‘under God’ was added to the pledge at the height of the McCarthy era and the Red Scare, after strong lobbying by religious groups at a time when many felt it would help to distinguish America from the communist Soviet Union,” the lawsuit said. “The Soviet Union fell in 1991, and the need, if there ever was any, to distinguish America in this manner from communist adversaries no longer exists.”
Writing for NorthJersey.com, Hannan Adely reports that Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the Washington D.C.-based American Humanist Association, says requiring that students participate in the pledge marginalizes atheist and humanist students. The message, he says, is that kids who do not believe in the “under God” passage in the Pledge of Allegiance are not patriotic.