FFRF is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to declare unconstitutional the practice of requiring public school students to recite or listen to the religious Pledge of Allegiance. Attorney Michael Newdow filed a petition of certiorari in late March, appealing a November 2010 decision by the 1st Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Hanover School District.
A New Hampshire couple who are FFRF members and have children in school filed suit in 2007 to challenge a 2002 state law requiring daily recitation of the pledge.
U.S. District Judge Steven J. McAuliffe ruled against FFRF in 2008. A three-judge 1st Circuit panel ruled last fall against FFRF’s challenge of the New Hampshire School Patriot Act.
The challenge raised the ire of 51 members of Congress, who won court permission to intervene in the case, including three U.S. religious senators — Sam Brownback, James Inhofe and Ted Stevens. (Brownback is now Kansas governor and Stevens is dead.) A number of other religionists and the Catholic Knights of Columbus, which spearheaded the drive to insert “under God” into the formerly secular pledge in 1954, also intervened.
FFRF continues to get many complaints from members and public school students who are offended, stigmatized, embarrassed or even disciplined for not wishing to recite a pledge that ties patriotism to piety.
Newdow argues that various circuit court decisions upholding the religious pledge give entirely different, often contradictory, and sometimes illogical reasons for allowing schools to interfere with the religious views of its atheist students.
“It is possible that what unifies these diverse holdings,” Newdow suggests in the petition, “is that all of them manifest the evil that the Establishment Clause exists to stifle — i.e., ‘political division along religious lines.’”
He cites authorities and even statements by President George W. Bush to show that the pledge is indeed a prayer and therefore should be barred from public schools. The petition challenges the history behind many lower court decisions.
Although some judges have argued that religion in the pledge merely “acknowledges” our religious heritage, Newdow asks: “[W]hat does ‘acknowledging’ religion have to do with patriotism?”
The petition continues, “This case involves the nation’s most disenfranchised religious minority. It is hoped that this Court, in particular, will be sensitive to this problem, since each of the current justices is a member of a minority religion, that, like Atheism, was also (at one time) despised and disenfranchised.
“In fact, the God that most public school teachers proclaim this nation to be ‘under’ each morning apparently advocates for murdering the plaintiffs here: ‘Whoever blasphemes the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death’ ” [Leviticus 24:16].
“We are hoping,” says FFRF Co-President Dan Barker, “that the Supreme Court will realize that the time has come to stop disenfranchising nontheists. We are ‘one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.’ ”
FFRF would like to publicly thank the New Hampshire plaintiffs who have made the lawsuit possible, and Newdow, who has worked pro bono with brilliance and dedication.
Read the entire Writ of Certiorari: