FREEHOLD, N.J. (Christian Examiner – Samantha Jones, a senior at Highland Regional High School in Blackwood, New Jersey spoke to a state judge Nov. 19, asking him to dismiss a suit brought to remove the words "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance.
Monmouth County Superior Court Judge David Bauman was hearing arguments related to a case first brought before the court in March against the Matawan-Aberdeen School District by the American Humanist Association and atheists in New Jersey. They sued on behalf of a family identified as "John and Jane Doe and their child" in what religious liberty advocates says is AHA's latest attempt to remove "under God" from the Pledge.
In Massachusetts earlier this year, an identical suit by the atheist group was unanimously rejected by the state's highest court.
When Jones and her family heard about the suit, they contacted the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty to represent them against the AHA. Beckett is a non-profit, public interest law firm in Washington, D.C. specializing in religious liberty cases, most recently representing Hobby Lobby in their successful lawsuit to be exempt from the America Healthcare Act provision requiring health insurance plans to include contraception for women.
The Jones' suit was joined by the fraternal organizations American Legion and Knights of Columbus.
"This is about potentially our freedom as Americans," Jones told the media stationed on the court house steps after she spoke with the judge. "Ever since I was little I remember saying the pledge all the time. 'Under God' sums up the history and values that I've always learned make our country great.
"It does acknowledge our rights don't come from the government but rather from a higher power, so they can't take away our basic human rights that they have not created," Jones continued.
School district officials say they're following a state law requiring students to say the pledge each day. In their petition, the school district wrote that a violation of equal protection laws couldn't be claimed because all students are treated equally: each is able not to say the pledge if they so choose.
"When I stand up, put my hand over my heart and say the Pledge of Allegiance, I am recognizing that my rights come from God, not from the government," Jones said in a release posted to Becket's website. "If anyone wants to remain silent, that is their right. But it is not their right to silence me."
David Niose is an attorney for the American Humanist Association. He claimed that atheist and humanist children are bullied, ostracized and mistreated because they choose not to say the Pledge.
"Public schools should not engage in an exercise that tells students that patriotism is tied to a belief in God," Niose said in a Fox news article. "Such a daily exercise portrays atheist and humanist children as second-class citizens, and certainly contributes to anti-atheist prejudices."
Judge Bauman said he expected to make a ruling soon on the school district's motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
According to the Becket Fund, "At root, the AHA's suit is based on one critically flawed assumption: that the phrase 'Under God' is a theologically charged religious statement." The Becket Fund has won its cases on this issue for 10 years with the claim that "under God" is constitutionally permissible because it uses the phrase as a statement of political philosophy, not theology.
So far, the Becket Fund has successfully defended the Pledge of Allegiance in the First Circuit, Ninth Circuit, the Massachusetts' Supreme Judicial Court and the U.S. Supreme Court.