FFRF “Under God” Lawsuit Heats Up

Fifty-one members of Congress won court permission on Jan. 18 to intervene in the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s federal lawsuit challenging “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance in New Hampshire. The case is being argued by attorney Michael Newdow on behalf of the Foundation and a family of Foundation members with three schoolchildren in Hanover.

The Foundation and New Hampshire family plaintiffs filed suit in the fall in U.S. District Court in Concord to bar educators from establishing religion in government schools via the religious pledge. The family’s real names are not revealed, in order to protect the children.

Along with naming as defendants the school districts of Hanover and the Dresden District, the Foundation and its parent and student plaintiffs named Congress. Congress added the disputed phrase to the previously secular pledge in 1954.

Televangelist Pat Robertson’s legal arm, the American Center for Law and Justice, filed the amicus brief supporting the school districts on behalf of its “Committee to Protect ‘under God,’ ” 48 members of the U.S. House, and three U.S. senators. (For list of Congress members, see back page.)

The ACLJ, which has a $30 million annual budget, has argued and won several mischief-making cases before the Supreme Court, and specializes in threatening to sue school districts and government officials who honor the constitutional principle of the separation between church and state.

“Plaintiffs’ strategy to purge all religious observances and references from American public life must not be permitted to move forward,” the ACLJ brief urges.

“It is absurd to claim there is an attempt to ‘purge all observances and references from American public life,’ ” commented Foundation co-president Dan Barker.

“What we are seeking is to keep the government–and its public schools–free from religion and religious coercion. Children should not be given a government-imposed religious oath to recite in our schools. In order for all American citizens–whether religious or not religious–to enjoy religious liberty, the government must be neutral on religious questions. Neutrality is not hostility.”

Ironically, the ACLJ brief also claims the Pledge of Allegiance as a patriotic, not a religious, exercise.

“That was certainly true before the pledge was meddled with by Congress in 1954. But now the pledge does indeed equate patriotism with a belief in God, to the great detriment of American nonbelievers, whose very citizenship is impugned by these words in the pledge,” responded Annie Laurie Gaylor, Foundation co-president.

In 2002, emergency room doctor Michael Newdow, who is also an attorney, made headlines for winning his lawsuit against “under God” in the pledge before the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Circuit Judge Alfred T. Goodwin, a 79-year-old Nixon Court appointee, wrote in the decision:

“A profession that we are a nation ‘under God’ is identical to a profession that we are a nation ‘under Jesus,’ a nation ‘under Vishnu,’ a nation ‘under Zeus,’ or a nation ‘under no god.’ “

U.S. senators immediately denounced the decision. House members responded by marching out to recite the pledge in front of television cameras, shouting out the words “under God” from the steps of the Capitol.

Circuit Judge Stephen Reinhardt, who joined Goodwin in the pledge ruling, told the media: “I can’t think of any decision where the entire Congress immediately rushes to condemn a decision by the court. It’s getting to be election time and this gives everyone in Congress a chance to prove they are patriotic.”

The Supreme Court later threw out Newdow’s victory, denying him, as a noncustodial parent, standing to sue over use of the religious exercise at his daughter’s school.

Newdow is back before the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, having won again on the pledge issue before a district court in California. The school district appealed his victory. That lawsuit names as defendants custodial parents with children in California schools. Newdow presented oral arguments in December. Among the 3-judge panel he drew was Judge Reinhardt, who originally voted against the constitutionality of the pledge. Newdow also argued an appeal before the Ninth Circuit over his challenge of “In God We Trust” on U.S. currency and as the U.S. motto. Decisions on both cases are expected this spring.

Newdow’s herculean efforts have educated the nation about the secular history of the Pledge of Allegiance.

The Foundation’s New Hampshire plaintiffs were pleased with the many supportive comments posted recently at the website of the New Hampshire Union Leader. Some of those comments include:

I don’t, and will not, say the pledge until it returns to its original state. Relative to US currency, I rarely use cash. My credit card doesn’t state “in god we trust,” and better not.

–Larry Langenbrunner, West Chester, Ohio

No atheist wants a pledge that states, “one nation, under no God,” they just want government neutrality. If God is true then it doesn’t need government endorsement. If not true, then it is folly to endorse a nonexistent being. To calls that atheists should leave the U.S. if they don’t love the present pledge: need I remind people that the pledge itself was changed to its present form 50 years ago. For most of its history it didn’t have God in it.

–Jerome McCollom, Milwaukee, Wis.

The phrase “under God” is divisive and favors those who are basically Christian, at the expense of those who aren’t. It was inserted only in 1954 and did nothing to protect the U.S. from the Soviets. It adds nothing to this great country. It is just one step in the efforts of those trying to establish a theocracy in the U.S. The Taliban would substitute “under Allah,” and look how they succeeded in establishing a theocracy. And I am a US-born Vietnam veteran who believes in individual freedoms and the primacy of reason, not a mythical god.

–Murphy Woodson, San Antonio, Texas

For a fair comparison, substitute “Allah” for “God.” Now you see how others feel when words are put in their mouth by their government–a government that was formed by people who were escaping religious oppression.

–Melior, Austin, Texas

The Pledge of Allegiance was written for the popular children’s magazine, Youth’s Companion, by Christian Socialist author and Baptist minister Francis Bellamy on September 7, 1892. Bellamy’s original pledge read as follows: “I pledge allegiance to my Flag, and to the Republic for which it stands: one Nation indivisible, With Liberty and Justice for all.” The author never included “under God” in the pledge. Politicians did.

–Jim M, Manchester

The “under God” phrase was shoved down our throats and was never intended to be part of the pledge by its author. Many of us are opposed to its inclusion and yet–shock–consider ourselves patriots. We are from this country, so to tell us to go back where we came from is ludicrous. We have as much right to be here as you and as much right to express our opinions as you. Get off your high and mighty horses and accept that some of us are intelligent enough to think for ourselves and don’t need authority or religion telling us how to think!

–Susan, Raymond

The Treaty with Tripoli, 1796, drafted under George Washington and signed by John Adams: “[T]he Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”

Thomas Jefferson, in a personal letter to Peter Carr: “Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear.”

–Brad Wojceshonek, Manchester

I am a native of New Hampshire and this country. I am an atheist and always felt like having to say the Pledge of Allegiance with “under God” was against my beliefs.

–Lindsay Kelley, Manchester

Amazing to me the ease with which some people would force their own beliefs on others! These posts clearly illuminate why we need to take “under God” out of the pledge and off of the money–so that people aren’t forced to obey a state religion! Luckily the Founding Fathers knew that people would have this abusive tendency, and separated church and state! Tyranny of the majority rears its ugly head, and loses!

–Anna Mechere, Concord

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, founded nationally as a tax-exempt, educational charity in 1978, has more than 12,000 freethinking members (atheists, agnostics, skeptics of whatever stripe), and works to defend the constitutional principle of the separation between church and state.

List of Congressional Interveners

The members of Congress who are working with Rev. Pat Robertson’s legal arm to throw out the Foundation’s challenge of the addition of religion into the Pledge of Allegiance in New Hampshire federal courts are:

U.S. Sens. Sam Brownback, James M. Inhofe, and Ted Stevens. U.S. Reps: Robert B. Aderholt, W. Todd Akin, Rodney Alexander, J. Gresham Barrett, Roscoe G. Bartlett, Rob Bishop, Marsha Blackburn, Roy Blunt, Ken Calvert, Chris Cannon, Tom Cole, John Abney Culberson, Mario Diaz-Balart, John T. Doolittle, Tom Feeney, Jeff Flake, J. Randy Forbes, Trent Franks, Scott Garrett, Phil Gingrey, Virgil H. Goode, Jeb Hensarling, Wally Herger, Peter Hoekstra, Duncan Hunter, Walter B. Jones, Ric Keller, Steve King, Jack Kingston, John Kline, Frank D. Lucas, John M. McHugh, Donald A. Manzullo, Jim Marshall, Gary G. Miller, Jeff Miller, Sue Wilkins Myrick, Stevan Pearce, Mike Pence, Joseph R. Pitts, Pete Sessions, John B. Shadegg, John Shimkus, Mark E. Souder, John Sullivan, Lee Terry, Dave Weldon, Joe Wilson.

Freedom From Religion Foundation