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New Jersey Atheists Sue School District Over 'Under God' In Pledge Of Allegiance

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The American Humanist Association filed a lawsuit Saturday against New Jersey’s Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District on behalf of a local atheist family seeking to omit the phrase “under God” from the school’s daily Pledge of Allegiance.

The family, who wishes to remain anonymous for “fear of public hostility" and “ostracism,” views the school-sponsored recitation of “under God” as discriminatory against secular children and their families, marginalizing them as second-class citizens.

“Public schools should not engage in an exercise that tells students that patriotism is tied to a belief in God,” David Niose, attorney for the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center, said in an AHA press release Monday. “Such a daily exercise portrays atheist and humanist children as second-class citizens, and certainly contributes to anti-atheist prejudices.”

According to a widely cited study by the University of Minnesota, atheists are ranked as the most disliked and distrusted minority group in the country.

The lawsuit, which claims that the practice violates the state constitution's rights and privileges clause, also describes the family’s personal experiences with anti-atheist discrimination:

Jane Doe and John Doe have personally experienced the public’s prejudice against atheists, as they have frequently heard and read strong public opinions disfavoring atheists and atheism. They have been told directly that atheists are “arrogant for not believing in God.”

The AHA initially submitted a letter of complaint to the school district’s superintendent in February, but decided to pursue legal action after the request to change the practice was rejected.

A similar case in Massachusetts, also advanced by the AHA, awaits a decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.

Although numerous lawsuits have challenged the phrase “under God” since its addition to the Pledge in 1954 as a violation of the separation of church and state, none have been successful thus far.

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