June 2014 Church & State | AU Bulletin

Prompted by concerns over the words “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, an atheist family has filed suit over its use in New Jersey public schools.

“Public schools should not engage in an exercise that tells students that patriotism is tied to a belief in God,” David Niose, legal director for the American Humanist Association, which is representing the family, told the Los Angeles Times.

The American Humanist Association v. Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District case was filed in the Superior Court of New Jersey for Monmouth County and rests entirely on provisions in the New Jersey Constitution, including its Equal Protection Clause.

 Eric Rassbach, an attorney for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, took issue with the suit. “People have a right to opt out of the Pledge if they have an objection to it,” he said. “Dissenters don’t get the right to decide everything for everyone else.”

Students do have the legal right to opt out of the Pledge, but the family alleges that their child had been harassed at school for refusing to recite it.         

Drafted by Fran­cis Bellamy, a minister and a socialist, in 1892, the Pledge of Allegiance didn’t originally contain the phrase “Under God.” The words were added by Congress as a slap against “godless Communism” in the Soviet Union.