New Jersey Teen Heads to Court to Defend Her Right to Say 'Under God' in Pledge of Allegiance

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.
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)

A New Jersey high school student and her family have entered the ongoing legal battle over a lawsuit by an atheist group seeking to remove "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance.

Samantha Jones, a senior at Highland Regional High School in Blackwood, and her family filed an official response to a lawsuit by the American Humanist Association.

"If anyone wants to remain silent, that is their right. But it is not their right to silence me," said Jones in a statement.

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"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 is being represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, an organization that has offered legal defense of the "under God" phrase in past lawsuits.

In April, the legal arm of the American Humanist Association filed a lawsuit in New Jersey on behalf of a family that objected to their child attending a school where the pledge was said with "under God" included.

Filed in the Superior Court of New Jersey, the suit was directed against the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District and its superintendent, David M. Healy.

"Public schools should not engage in an exercise that tells students that patriotism is tied to a belief in God," said David Niose, attorney for the AHA's Appignani Humanist Legal Center.

"Such a daily exercise portrays atheist and humanist children as second-class citizens, and certainly contributes to anti-atheist prejudices."

Inserted into the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954, the phrase "under God" has been the subject of multiple lawsuits over the past several years.

This is not the first state-level legal challenge the AHA has recently made against the "under God" phrase.

In May, the Massachusetts' highest court ruled against an AHA lawsuit brought against the pledge phrase, in a decision known as Doe v. Acton-Boxborough Regional School District.

Massachusetts' Supreme Judicial Court concluded that "the recitation of the pledge, which is entirely voluntary, violates neither the Constitution nor the statute [which prohibits discrimination in Massachusetts public school education] ..."

In a statement released Tuesday, Becket Fund Executive Director Kristina Arriaga said "the pledge is not a religious creed or a prayer. It is a statement of our nation's political philosophy that rights come not from the state but from something higher — as our Declaration of Independence puts it, 'Nature's God.'"

Jones' legal response comes as the AHA recently launched its "Don't Say The Pledge" campaign, meant to encourage students to refuse to say the Pledge of Allegiance as long as it contains the phrase "under God."

"Those two words were added to the Pledge in 1954, when the country was in the grip of McCarthyism and communist witch-hunt hysteria," reads a statement on the campaign website.

"Until the pledge is restored to its inclusive version, we can take it upon ourselves to refuse to participate in what's become a discriminatory exercise."

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