(by Rita Giordano, Philly.com and Ashley Peskoe, NJ.com) – New Jersey teenager Samantha Jones grew up reciting the Pledge of Allegiance with the words under God, and she is willing to go to court for the right to keeping saying those words.

[Samantha Jones, 17, is a senior at Highlands Regional High School. [She says] that removing the phrase referencing God infringes on her rights to say the Pledge in its entirety, according attorney Diana Verm, of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, who is representing the Jones’ and the Knights of Columbus.]

Jones and her family learned this week that they have been granted intervenor status in a Superior Court case that contends that reciting the pledge violates the rights of atheists and humanists.

jones-under-god

Samantha Jones (r.) with her family.

The case, American Humanist Association v. Matawan Aberdeen Regional School District, seeks to have the Monmouth County court declare that those rights are being violated and to have schools desist from having the pledge recited in its current form.

School district lawyer David Rubin says the district is merely following a state law that requires schools to have a daily recitation of the pledge. He says individual students do not have to participate. A U.S. Supreme Court ruling has said students can choose to refrain.  

In a similar case, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled in May that teacher-led recitation of the pledge did not discriminate against atheist and humanist children, and that the practice was a political exercise and not a religious one.

Humanist Association legal director David Niose said the New Jersey case involves a child harassed for being an atheist. He declined to identify the family.

Having the pledge recited en masse with the under God phrase, he said, promotes anti-atheist bias and sends the message that “true patriots are believers, and atheists are second-class citizens.”

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a Washington-based public interest law firm, fought to keep under God in the Massachusetts case and won intervenor status in the New Jersey case for the Jones family and the Knights of Columbus. …

Becket legal counsel Diana Verm said the words in the pledge are “a statement of our country’s political philosophy. It’s not a prayer.”

under-god-billboard[If the courts ruled to remove the phrase from the Pledge, Verm said that would have an impact on Jones because it would apply to all schools in New Jersey. She also added that the Pledge is voluntary so people don’t have to recite it, which she said has been a remedy in the courts for decades.

“Where they’re wrong is the words “under God” are not a religious statement but they’re a statement of political philosophy,” Verm said. “It was our Founding Father’s understanding that our rights don’t come from the state but they come from something higher than the state.”

The next steps for the family and the Knights of Columbus will be to file a motion to have the lawsuit dismissed, Verm said.]

Those words signify the belief that “our rights are secure because they don’t come from the state,” Verm said. “They come from a power higher than the state.”

Samantha Jones agrees.

“I’ve recited the pledge since preschool,” she said. “To me, those words sum up the values that make our country great.”

Jones said she was very excited when her family members learned Monday that they were being allowed to participate in the case. They are her father, Frank, an insurance broker; mother, Michele, a homemaker; brother, Frank Jr., 14, a freshman at Highland; and sister, Halle, 9, who attends Gloucester Township Elementary School.

She said the Becket Fund reached out to her family.  “We were more than willing to stand up for this right,” she said.

Jones, who described her family as Christian, said atheists have the right to not recite the pledge. She added, “They don’t have the right to silence everyone else.”

If she has to testify, she said, she will be a little nervous but mostly excited.

“This is me standing up for what I believe in,” she said. “That’s how I was raised.”

Compiled from articles published on Sept. 24 at Philly.com and NJ.com. Reprinted here for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission.

Questions

NOTE:  NJ high school student Samantha Jones and her family have been granted intervenor status in a NJ Superior Court case. In legal terms, an intervenor is a person who obtains the court’s permission to enter into a lawsuit which has already started between other parties and to file a complaint stating the basis for a claim in the existing lawsuit. Such intervention will be allowed only if the party wanting to enter into the case has some right or interest in the suit and will not unduly prejudice the ability of the original parties to the lawsuit in conducting their case. (from Legal Dictionary at FreeDictionary .com)

1. Describe the case in which Samantha Jones and her family have been granted intervenor status.

2. How is the school district defending its policy on the Pledge of Allegiance?

3. How did a Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court rule in May on a similar case?

4. What arguments is the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty using to defend the case?

5. a) It is optional for students to recite the pledge. Why is the Humanist Association suing the school district?
b) What would be another way (besides suing the school district to force them to remove “under God” from their pledge) for the family to address the problem they say their child was having with not saying “under God”?

6. a) Write out the words to the Pledge of Allegiance.
b) Ask a parent and a grandparent how they view this lawsuit and the arguments from both sides.

7. Samantha Jones said atheists have the right to not recite the pledge. She added, “They don’t have the right to silence everyone else.” Do you agree? Explain your answer.


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Background

Section 4 of the Flag Code states:

The Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag: “I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”, should be rendered by standing at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart. When not in uniform men should remove any non-religious headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. Persons in uniform should remain silent, face the flag, and render the military salute.”

The original Bellamy salute, first described in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, who authored the original Pledge, began with a military salute, and after reciting the words “to the flag,” the arm was extended toward the flag.

At a signal from the Principal the pupils, in ordered ranks, hands to the side, face the Flag. Another signal is given; every pupil gives the flag the military salute — right hand lifted, palm downward, to a line with the forehead and close to it. Standing thus, all repeat together, slowly, “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands; one Nation indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.” At the words, “to my Flag,” the right hand is extended gracefully, palm upward, toward the Flag, and remains in this gesture till the end of the affirmation; whereupon all hands immediately drop to the side.
The Youth’s Companion, 1892

Shortly thereafter, the pledge was begun with the right hand over the heart, and after reciting “to the Flag,” the arm was extended toward the Flag, palm-down.

In World War II, the salute too much resembled the Nazi salute, so it was changed to keep the right hand over the heart throughout. (from ushistory.org/documents/pledge.htm)

The pledge was amended to include the words “under God” by a 1954 federal law. Members of Congress at the time said they wanted to set the United States apart from “godless communists.”  Congress added “Under God” to the Pledge in 1954 – during the Cold War. Many members of Congress reportedly wanted to emphasize the distinctions between the United States and the officially atheistic Soviet Union. (from Pew Research Center)

Resources

Read about the addition of the phrase “under God” to the pledge at wikipedia.

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