California atheist activist Michael Newdow is renewing his fight to remove reference to God from the Pledge of Allegiance, this time with a suit filed on behalf of an anonymous New Hampshire couple against a school district.
The couple, an agnostic and atheist with three children, say in their complaint that they “generally, deny that God exists” and contend their constitutional rights are violated when school authorities require their children to “participate in making the purely religious, monotheistic claim that the United States is ‘one nation under God.'”
Newdow previously sued over the inclusion of “under God” in the pledge, but his claims were rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2004 on technical grounds. The self-described atheist said he did not want his third-grade daughter to have to listen to the phrase “under God” in a public school.
Five justices, however, found Newdow did not have the legal standing to bring the case. He never married the child’s mother, who has expressed support for having “under God” in the pledge.
“To give the parent of such a child a sort of ‘heckler’s veto’ over a patriotic ceremony willingly participated in by other students, simply because the Pledge of Allegiance contains the descriptive phrase ‘under God,’ is an unwarranted extension of the establishment clause, an extension which would have the unfortunate effect of prohibiting a commendable patriotic observance,” then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote in rejecting Newdow’s appeal.
The couple in the current lawsuit, from Hanover, N.H., are also represented by an activist group based in Madison, Wis., the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
Newdow told the Nashua Telegraph he believes children shouldn’t be coerced to assert the existence of God, let alone allegiance to a supreme being.
Schools and the government should have nothing to do with religion and religious rituals, he argued, contending there are “numerous instances where kids are traumatized for life.”
The phrase “under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954 by Congress. Two years later, Congress made “In God We Trust” the country’s official motto.
Courts also have turned back efforts by Newdow to challenge the phrase printed on U.S. currency.
The Hanover couple argues the peer pressure that results from refusing to say the pledge is coercive and unfairly challenges a child’s patriotism.
Their lawsuit says that by “endorsing the religious notion that God exists, the now-religious Pledge creates a societal environment where prejudice against atheists – and, thus, against Plaintiffs here – is perpetuated.”
They further argue the rights of the parents to instill in their children “religious beliefs they find persuasive – free from governmental influence – has been abridged by Defendants’ practices.”
The complaint notes the couple does not object to reciting the pledge but contends “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,’ the suit claims.
As WND reported in May, the Texas Legislature voted to add the words “under God” to the state pledge.