Family sues N.J. School District Over Pledge of Allegiance

Globe staff photo by David L Ryan, story by Peter Schworm, Boston, Ma., 3-24-04: ( BETTER SCAN PHOTO ) Under God, key phrase for The Supreme Court in Washington DC where justices examine the constitutionality of the Pledge of Allegiance held a meeting with lawyers over the meaning of those words. At a public school in Boston, the Charles H. Taylor elementry school, children in the 4th grade class of teacher Maria Kubik(cq) say the morning pledge at their start of the day. Library Tag 03252004 Metro
In this March 24, 2004 file photo, 4th graders at Boston’s Charles H. Taylor Elementary School recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
David Ryan / Globe Staff

A New Jersey family is suing the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District to have the phrase “under God” removed from the Pledge of Allegiance, according to the Asbury Park Press.

The family claims that referencing God in the daily pledge discriminates against atheists, humanists, and other nonreligious groups. The suit was filed by the American Humanist Association on behalf of the family, who wish to remain anonymous.

While atheism refers only to a lack of belief in any deity, humanists adhere additionally to “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.” The American Humanist Association is a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that seeks to protect nonreligious Americans.

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Federal courts have long upheld that students may opt out of daily recitation. However, the lawsuit alleges that the pledge’s current language “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.” Attorneys assert that nonreligious children are compelled to either denounce their beliefs publicly or have their patriotism called into question.

The Asbury Park Press reported:

"While plaintiffs recognize that (the child) has the right to refuse participation in the flag-salute exercise and pledge recitation, the child does not wish to be excluded from it, and in fact wants to be able to participate in an exercise that does not portray other religious groups as first-class citizens and his own as second-class," the suit said.

David Niose, an attorney for the American Humanist Association, noted that the phrase “under God” was not included in the pledge when it was originally penned in 1892. It was added in 1954, “at the height of the McCarthy era and the Red Scare,” he told the Asbury Park Press. Niose argues that the language was adopted to separate Americans ideologically from the Soviet Union. He says that distinction isn’t necessary nearly 25 years after the fall of the former communist state.

David Rubin, the schools district’s attorney, said that schools are merely adhering to a state law that requires students to recite the pledge daily. He said that any group that questions the policy should take it up with the state legislature rather than individual school districts.

The Massachusetts Supreme Court is considering a similar suit involving the Acton-Boxborough Regional School District.