FFRF & Friends Challenge ‘Under God’ in Pledge in New Hampshire Schools (2010)

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 the Foundation and a Hanover couple with children in the schools who are Foundation members. The suit, filed in federal court on Oct. 31, 2007, names Congress and three local school districts. A 2002 state law requires New Hampshire schools to include recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in every school day, but adds that student participation is voluntary. The parent plaintiffs believe that by including the phrase in the pledge, the district is “endorsing the religious notion that God exists” and thereby creates a “societal environment where prejudice against atheists . . . is perpetuated.” “It should be noted that Plaintiffs are making no objection to the recitation of a patriotic Pledge of Allegiance,” the Complaint notes. “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, the government may not employ or include sectarian religious dogma towards this end. 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,” writes Newdow in the legal complaint.

On Jan. 18, 2008, 51 members of Congress won court permission to intervene in the lawsuit. The interveners, including three U.S. Senators — Sam Brownback, James M. Inhofe, and Ted Stevens — and 48 members of the House, asked the judge to dismiss the lawsuit. A number of individual religionists in the school district, as well as the Knights of Columbus, also intervened in the lawsuit. (The Catholic men’s club originally spearheaded the campaign to insert “under God” into the previously secular pledge.) U.S. Dist. Judge Steven J. McAuliffe issued an order on Aug. 7, 2008, agreeing to dismiss Congress as a defendant. But the Court denied the State of New Hampshire’s motion to dismiss, as well as the motion to dismiss filed by several intervening individuals and the Knights of Columbus. A 3-judge panel of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Nov. 12, 2010 against FFRF’s challenge of the New Hampshire School Patriot Act. A request for en banc review was turned down on Dec. 28, 2010. Michael Newdow with plaintiffs asked the Supreme Court to review the decision on March 25, 2011.

Freedom From Religion Foundation