Newdow, FFRF Launch New Challenge of 'Under God' in Pledge

In New Hampshire

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has joined Michael Newdow in launching a new challenge of the religious phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. Plaintiffs include an anonymous Hanover couple who are Foundation members, as well as the Foundation on behalf of its New Hampshire members.

Defendants include Congress, and three local school districts.

The federal lawsuit was filed in the Hanover school district on Oct. 31, with plaintiffs represented by Newdow, an emergency room doctor who has a law degree.

The Hanover couple, identified as "Jan and Pat Doe," are an atheist and an agnostic with three children in the Hanover schools.

"Plaintiffs, generally deny that God exists, and maintain that their constitutional and statutory rights are abridged when the school district defendants participate in making the purely religious, monotheistic claim that the United States is 'one nation under God,' " the lawsuit states.

The original pledge was secular until Congress inserted "under God" in 1954, after lobbying by Christian groups.

Newdow originally challenged the religious wording in the pledge several years ago, winning his case in a legal triumph before the Ninth U.S. Circuit court of Appeals. The case was thrown out after the U.S. Supreme court ruled in 2004 that Newdow, as the noncustodial parent of his daughter, had no standing to sue.

Newdow is pursuing a new challenge in California with a set of custodial parents. An appeal of that case, as well as Newdow's challenge of the words "In God We Trust" as a national motto, will be heard in early December by the Ninth Circuit.

A 2002 New Hampshire law requires schools to include recitation of the pledge of allegiance in every school day but adds that student participation is voluntary.

The two plaintiffs still believe that by including the phrase in the pledge, the district is nevertheless "endorsing the religious notion that God exists" and thereby creating a "societal environment where prejudice against atheists . . . is perpetuated," according to the suit.

"It should be noted that Plaintiffs are making no objection to the recitation of a patriotic Pledge of Allegiance. The government is certainly within its right to foster patriotism, and it may certainly make the determination that recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance serves that purpose. However, government may not employ or include sectarian religious dogma towards this end," the legal complaint states.

"By placing the religious words 'under God' into the Pledge, Congress not only interfered with the patriotism and national unity the Pledge was meant to engender, but it actually fostered divisiveness. . . in a manner expressly forbidden by the Constitution."

"We are delighted to be joining with Michael Newdow and members in New Hampshire in this challenge. The religious tampering with the Pledge of Allegiance during the 1950s means that several generations of Americans have grown accustomed to the idea that patriotism and godliness are synonymous. This violation has subverted respect for the separation between church and state, and for nonreligious citizens. It is time to restore the pledge to its inclusive and secular original wording," said Foundation co-presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor.

Read the Legal Complaint (PDF)

Read the ACLJ's intervention brief (PDF)

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