Atheist family sues to keep New Jersey students from saying ‘under God’ in Pledge of Allegiance

The Garden State has apparently become “ground zero” for devout, angry atheists intent on imposing their beliefs on Americans of all religious stripes.

On Monday, the American Humanist Association announced that it has filed a lawsuit in state court challenging the famous phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance on the premise that those two words discriminate against atheist children.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are an anonymous family, CBS New York reports. The defendant is the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District.

The suit, which was actually filed last month, was announced just after the filing of a federal lawsuit alleging that state’s Motor Vehicle Commission violated a New Jersey woman’s constitutional rights by preventing her from having a vanity license plate reading “8THEIST.” (RELATED: Devout, angry atheist finds new thing to sue angrily about: VANITY PLATES)

The American Humanist Association asserts that the offensive phrase “marginalizes atheist and humanist kids as something less than ideal patriots.”

The phrase “under God” was officially added to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954. (The oath itself was penned by socialist minister Francis Bellamy in 1892.)

The anonymous plaintiffs say the phrase violates New Jersey’s Constitution whenever it is uttered in a public-school setting. They want to force public schools and all children who attend those schools to return to the pre-1954 wording of the pledge, which doesn’t contain the phrase.

“The lawsuit is an equal protection suit seeking to declare unconstitutional the New Jersey state law requiring daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag in public schools,” David Niose, legal director of the humanist group, told CBS New York. “Children are taught that patriotism is defined a certain way. They’re taught to associate belief in God with patriot feelings. Certainly, with that being taught, the atheists look like an outsider. The atheist is stigmatized.”

There is no First Amendment aspect to the suit.

In response to the lawsuit, school district attorney David Rubin noted that state law requires a daily recital of the pledge. He said the district is merely complying with the law.

According to its website, the American Humanist Association strives “to bring about a progressive society where being good without a god” is “accepted and respected.”

The Pledge of Allegiance has long been a lightning rod for controversy around the country.

As American Humanist Association representatives have noted, there is a similar lawsuit brewing in a Massachusetts state court.

In October 2013, a high school principal in a tiny town in western Nebraska outlawed the Pledge for a day because of the partial shutdown that caused some 17 percent of the federal government (and no part of Nebraska high schools) to cease functioning. One kid stood up in class and said the pledge anyway, according to his irate mother. (RELATED: High school principal bans pledge of allegiance over government shutdown)

The month before, on the 12th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, the principal at Concord-Carlisle High School in the suburbs of Boston read a Muslim poem to the entire school instead of the Pledge of Allegiance. He later apologized for the oversight. (RELATED: Sept. 11, 2013: A Muslim poem but no Pledge of Allegiance at Boston-area high school)

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