The American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center announced last year that it had filed a lawsuit against the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District in Monmouth County, New Jersey. If successful, the lawsuit would put an end to saying the Pledge of Allegiance in the state’s public schools.
Much like their (failed) lawsuit in Massachusetts, the plaintiffs were anonymous (presumably to avoid harassment from Christians) and the argument was all about discrimination. They weren’t trying to take “Under God” out of the Pledge, you see. Instead, they were arguing that reciting the Pledge itself went against the state’s constitution and that ritual should stop immediately.
The AHA’s New Jersey lawsuit said:
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.
A few months later, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty (a conservative Christian legal group) announced that Samantha Jones, a NJ high school student, would be joining the legal fight against the AHA:
“When I stand up, put my hand over my heart and say the Pledge of Allegiance, I am recognizing that my rights come from God, not from the government,” said Samantha Jones, a senior at Highland Regional High School. “If anyone wants to remain silent, that is their right. But it is not their right to silence me.”
As I said then, Jones’ comments about how the Pledge helps her recognize that her “rights come from God” actually proved the AHA’s point. This is a religious Pledge and that’s why it shouldn’t be a mandatory part of the school day. It suggests that atheists are second-class citizens. Furthermore, no one was silencing her. Even if the AHA won, Jones could still say the Pledge whenever she wanted to. No one was taking that away from her. (It was the same silly argument Christians use regarding prayer in schools. They act like the Supreme Court decision ending school-sponsored daily Bible readings took away their right to read the Bible. It didn’t. Students can read it and pray all they want. A teacher just can’t lead those prayers.)
When oral arguments were heard in November, Judge David Bauman said there was no evidence of the student being “bullied, ostracized or in any way mistreated.” That was similar to what justices said in the Massachusetts case. Which is ridiculous to me since it’s like they need the body of a beaten-up atheist in order to show the Pledge is discriminatory…
But Bauman also admitted that the district policy — that you better have a good reason (and it needs to be in writing) not to stand up for the Pledge — was clearly over the top.
“I’m so grateful the court decided that kids like me shouldn’t be silenced just because some people object to timeless American values,” Samantha Jones, a senior at Highland Regional High School, said in a statement.
“Today the Pledge continued its long winning streak in court, and the atheist activists continued their losing streak,” Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel for the Becket Fund, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “But do we have to keep playing this game? It would be much less divisive for our society if those opposed to the Pledge would stop trying to silence those who disagree with them.”
Again, no one was trying to silence anyone. That’s a straight-up lie, which the Becket Fund has no problem with.
They claim they’re silenced, which they’re not, but they’re perfectly fine with schools pressuring atheists to say a religious Pledge. If the roles were switched, I promise you the Christians would still be arguing their rights were under attack.
There’s no word yet on whether parents still have to provide a written excuse for their child to get out of saying the Pledge. And I’m still awaiting comment from the AHA along with an actual copy of the ruling. I’ll update this post when I hear more.
***Update***: The AHA has responded to the judge’s ruling, expressing disappointment:
“The daily Pledge recitation is a core part of how we define patriotism for children on a daily basis, so the exercise is discriminatory if it associates patriotism with God-belief and suggests that atheists and humanists are second-class citizens,” said David Niose, legal director of the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center.
“We will continue to work toward ensuring equal rights for all Americans who are good without a god,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. “As the number of atheist, humanist and nonreligious Americans continues to grow, we expect to see increased support for an inclusive Pledge wording that emphasizes ‘one nation, indivisible.’”
(Large portions of this article were published earlier)