New Hampshire “Under God” Lawsuit Proceeds

U.S. District Judge Steven J. McAuliffe issued an order on Aug. 7 agreeing to dismiss Congress as a defendant in a lawsuit filed by Michael Newdow and the Freedom From Religion Foundation on behalf of a Foundation family, contesting the use of the religious Pledge of Allegiance in New Hampshire schools.

Jan and Pat Doe, with three minor children, sued Congress, the Hanover School District, the Dresden School District and other school officials in New Hampshire last fall.

Intervening on behalf of the defendants are the State of New Hampshire, a number of individuals from the Hanover School District and the Knights of Columbus. The Catholic men’s club originally spearheaded the campaign to insert “under God” into the previously secular pledge.

New Hampshire state law requires daily recitation of the pledge in public schools, although participation is voluntary.

The plaintiffs, which include the Foundation on behalf of its New Hampshire membership, asked the court to declare that Congress violated the First Amendment’s Establishment and free exercise clauses in passing the 1954 amendment to the pledge.

The judge said the plaintiffs did not have standing to sue Congress. But the Court denied the State of New Hampshire’s motion to dismiss, as well as the motion to dismiss filed by the intervening individuals and the Knights of Columbus.

The lawsuit against the school district proceeds.

Newdow won his initial challenge of the religious pledge before the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which declared “under God” in the pledge unconstitutional. That historic ruling was mooted by the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that Newdow did not have standing as a noncustodial parent. He then retook the case with additional parents who have children in California schools, and won at the district level. Expected soon is a ruling by the Ninth Circuit over California’s appeal of Newdow’s victory, as well as Newdow’s separate lawsuit challenging the religious motto, “In God We Trust.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation