A national humanist group is suing a New Jersey school district on behalf of a family that believes the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance is discriminatory toward atheist children.
The lawsuit against the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District was filed in state court last month and announced Monday by the American Humanist Association, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy organization.
The group says the phrase, added in 1954, "marginalizes atheist and humanist kids as something less than ideal patriots." The anonymous plaintiffs say those two words violate the state constitution's right to equal protection.
David Niose, an attorney for the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center, said public schools should not permit an exercise that "teaches students that patriotism is tied to a belief in God."
“Such a daily exercise portrays atheist and humanist children as second-class citizens, and certainly contributes to anti-atheist prejudices,” Niose said in a statement.
But school district lawyer David Rubin said the district is merely following a state law that requires schools to have a daily recitation of the pledge. He told NorthJersey.com that individual students do not have to participate.
“We are disappointed that this national organization has targeted Matawan-Aberdeen for merely obeying the law as it stands,” Rubin said in a written statement.
The humanist group is awaiting a ruling from a court on a similar case in Massachusetts.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.