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, and the Foundation on behalf of its New Hampshire members. The suit names 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 also has a law degree.
The Hanover couple is identified as "Jan and Pat Doe." They are an atheist and an agnostic with three children in the Hanover schools, who have felt "coerced" about reciting the pledge.
"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 before the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. But the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2004 that Newdow, as the noncustodial parent of his daughter, had no standing to sue.
So Newdow brought another lawsuit in California with a new set of custodial parents. An appeal of that case will be heard in early December by the Ninth Circuit. On the same day, Newdow will also be arguing his challenge of the words "In God We Trust" as the national motto and on U.S. currency before the same court.
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 two plaintiffs still 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," 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."
"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."