Humanists Sue New Jersey School District Over Pledge of Allegiance; It Treats Atheists As ‘Second-Class Citizens’ April 22, 2014

Humanists Sue New Jersey School District Over Pledge of Allegiance; It Treats Atheists As ‘Second-Class Citizens’

The American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center announced yesterday that they had filed a lawsuit against the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District in Monmouth County, New Jersey. If successful, the lawsuit could put an end to saying the Pledge of Allegiance in the state’s public schools.

Much like their lawsuit in Massachusetts, the plaintiffs are anonymous for the time being (presumably to avoid harassment from Christians) and the argument is all about discrimination. They’re not trying to take “Under God” out of the Pledge — instead, they’re arguing that reciting the Pledge itself goes against the state’s constitution and that ritual should stop immediately.

(That’s very different from what Michael Newdow tried to do a decade ago, when he attempted to persuade the Supreme Court, unsuccessfully, that just the two words themselves were unconstitutional because they amounted to a government endorsement of religion.)

The AHA’s New Jersey lawsuit says:

By affirming that the United States is one nation “under God,” the daily classroom Pledge recitation directly contradicts the religious beliefs and principles of the plaintiffs. Jane Doe, John Doe, and Doechild embrace a Humanist world view and do not believe that any God exists or that any country is “under God.” Despite this, on a daily basis the Defendants public schools assert, through an official, school-sponsored patriotic exercise, that in fact the Does’ religious views are wrong.

Although the Does have no desire to evangelize their Humanism and atheism, they strongly desire to be treated equally, not as second-class citizens, by their government and school system.

Before you assume this lawsuit will go nowhere, think about what happened in Massachusetts. After a lower court ruled against the Humanists, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decided they would hear the case. I have my reasons for believing their current lengthy delay in issuing a ruling bodes well for our side.

It’d be a hard sell for anyone in the school district to explain why a patriotic ritual needs to include a reference to a monotheistic God. And if the highest Massachusetts court ends up siding with the Humanists, that could mean greater pressure on New Jersey to follow suit.

I asked AHA if they planned to file similar lawsuits in other states given the (potential) success in Massachusetts. As of this writing, I have not yet received a response.

I’ll keep you updated on how this plays out.


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