- (Photo: Reuters/Brian Snyder)
A Washington, D.C.-based secular organization has filed a lawsuit against the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance.
The American Humanist Association announced Monday that a New Jersey school district will be the latest entity sued over the two words.
David Niose, attorney for the American Humanist Association's Appignani Humanist Legal Center, said in a statement that he believes the pledge's words are religiously coercive.
"Public schools should not engage in an exercise that tells students that patriotism is tied to a belief in God," said Niose.
"Such a daily exercise portrays atheist and humanist children as second-class citizens, and certainly contributes to anti-atheist prejudices."
The lawsuit is being brought on behalf of an anonymous Monmouth County family that claims the words under God are discriminatory against non-theists.
Filed in the Superior Court of New Jersey Saturday, the lawsuit contends that with its under God phrase the pledge "unlawfully discriminates against plaintiffs on the basis of religion."
"Plaintiffs seek a declaratory judgment that said statute and the daily classroom exercise required by it violate the equal protection guarantees of the New Jersey Constitution, along with injunctive relief and nominal damages," continued the suit.
Placed in the pledge in 1954, the under God phrase has been the subject of many atheist lawsuits.
In the past, atheist activist Michael Newdow of California has, on multiple occasions, sued to remove the two words from the pledge, ultimately failing in his efforts.
The New Jersey lawsuit filed last week is not the only legal challenge the American Humanist Association is levelling against the pledge.
Last fall, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts' highest court heard oral arguments in the case Doe v. Acton-Boxborough.
Brought before the Supreme Judicial Court, the case similarly argued that the under God phrase violates the equal protection of atheists under the law.
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a Washington, D.C.-based law firm that specializes in religious freedom cases, has defended the pledge from various lawsuits.
Regarding the Massachusetts case, Becket Fund Legal Counsel Diana Verm stated that AHA and its clients "have every right not to say the pledge if they don't want to, but they don't have the right to silence everyone else."
"Removing the words under God would deny the source of our rights and show hostility toward religion," said Verm.
"The pledge is appropriate in public schools because it is a statement of political philosophy, not theology."