New Jersey Teen Battles Atheists in Court to Keep 'Under God' in Pledge of Allegiance, Say's She Won't Be Silenced

Attendees recite the Pledge of Allegiance at the morning plenary session of the Values Voter Summit in Washington, September 26, 2014. | (Photo: Reuters/Gary Cameron)

A court in New Jersey heard arguments Wednesday on a motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by an atheist group that wants to remove the phrase "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance after parents complained that their child's public school was reciting the phrase.

Monmouth County Superior Court Judge David Bauman heard arguments on the motion to dismiss the atheist group's lawsuit, which was filed by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty on behalf of New Jersey high school student Samantha Jones.

Samantha Jones, a senior at Highland Regional High School, who in September 2014 sued to assure her right to say the phrase "one nation under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. | (Photo: The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty)

In April, the legal arm of the American Humanist Association filed a lawsuit against the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District and its superintendent, David M. Healy, in the Superior Court of New Jersey on behalf of the family that took issue with the phrase.

"Public schools should not engage in an exercise that tells students that patriotism is tied to a belief in God," David Niose, legal director of AHA's Appignani Humanist Legal Center, stated in April. "Such a daily exercise portrays atheist and humanist children as second-class citizens, and certainly contributes to anti-atheist prejudices."

Jones, a senior at Highland Regional High School in Blackwood and her family filed an official response to the AHA lawsuit, and gave a statement at Wednesday's hearing following arguments.

"I've been reciting the pledge since preschool, and to me the phrase 'one nation under God' sums up the history and values that have made our country great," Jones said. "I think it's empowering to know that, no matter what happens, I have some rights the government can never take away. No student should be silenced just because some people disagree with timeless American values."

Inserted into the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954, the phrase "under God" has garnered the occasional lawsuit by secular groups who see it as unconstitutional.

"The judge seemed focused on the case, he had prepared well, and he was familiar with the arguments of each of the parties," Diana Verm, legal counsel with the Becket Fund, told The Christian Post.

"He asked tough questions of each side, and it is difficult to predict the outcome, but we are optimistic that he will agree with every other court to decide this issue and uphold the pledge," she added.

In an interview with CP, Niose agreed that the hearing had gone very well, but that he did not have a specific time table for when the judge would render a decision on the motion to dismiss.

"It seemed to go very well," said Niose, whose organization had recently attempted a similar lawsuit in Massachusetts only to have the state's highest court rule against them. "The judge heard arguments for over an hour, clearly understood what the main issues in the case are, and asked numerous questions to both sides during oral argument."

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