Hearing the words “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance does not violate the rights of atheists.
That was the ruling of a N.J. judge who ruled on a lawsuit filed by a student against the Matawan-Aberdeen school district that said the phrase promoted an environment of discrimination in class because it elevated religion and made the atheist students feel like “second-class citizens,” northjersey.com reported.
The lawsuit was filed last year by the student and his parents and joined by perennial agitators the American Humanist Association, an atheist group that often gets involved in cases that center on the issue of the separation of church and state.
Attorneys for the plaintiff contended that the unnamed student felt “marginalized” when he heard the pledge “just as America’s Jews, Hindus, and Muslims would feel excluded, marginalized and stigmatized if they were told by their government on a daily basis that the United States is one nation ‘under Jesus.’”
Judge David F. Bauman dismissed the case in February, but his ruling was published Monday. In it, he stated that the student had every right to skip the Pledge if he wanted to, but that the words do not endorse a particular religion.
“As a matter of historical tradition, the words ‘under God’ can no more be expunged from the national consciousness than the words ‘In God We Trust’ from every coin in the land, than the words ‘so help me God’ from every presidential oath since 1789, or than the prayer that has opened every congressional session of legislative business since 1787,” Bauman wrote.
“The Pledge of Allegiance, in this historical context, is not to be viewed, and has never been viewed, as a religious exercise,” he added.
Bauman pointed out that the state’s constitution even references “Almighty God.”
“Under plaintiffs’ reasoning, the very constitution under which plaintiffs seek redress for perceived atheistic marginalization could itself be deemed unconstitutional, an absurd proposition which plaintiffs do not and cannot advance here,” he wrote. “Protecting students from viewpoints and ideas that may offend or upset them is not and has never been the role of public schools in America.”
The American Humanist Society disagreed with the ruling, but it does not plan to appeal.
“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,” legal director of the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center David Niose said.
School district attorney David B. Rubin praised the decision.
“This case does not deal with religious freedom,” he said. “It is a reference to the role religion played in the establishment of this country.”
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