ADF brief: ‘You can say the Pledge in public schools’

CONCORD, N.H. — If you’re a student in New Hampshire’s public schools, you will not be allowed to recite the Pledge of Allegiance with the words “under God” if the Freedom From Religion Foundation has its way in an appeal being heard at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit. But Alliance Defense Fund attorneys filed a friend-of-the-court brief Tuesday with the court, arguing that the historical practice in no way violates the U.S. Constitution.

“The Pledge of Allegiance shouldn’t be banned from the nation’s public schools simply to appease an atheist group’s political agenda,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel David Cortman. “If FFRF had the correct view of the law, all manner of acknowledgements of the nation’s unquestionable religious heritage would have to be stripped from the public square:  ‘In God We Trust’ would have to be scratched off our coins and references to our ‘Creator’ would have to be deleted from the Declaration of Independence when used in class–just to name a few. The Constitution does not require such absurd censorship.”

In October 2007, FFRF sued the Dresden and Hanover school districts, claiming that their practice of allowing students to participate in the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance is a violation of the students’ constitutional rights, even if they are not compelled to participate.  FFRF alleges that the children and their parents they represent suffered legal injury while the Pledge was recited at school because the words “under God” make it a religious activity that violates the so-called “separation of church and state.”

“The courts have repeatedly ruled that the phrase ‘under God’ is constitutional when used in the Pledge of Allegiance,” explained ADF Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco.

ADF argues in its friend-of-the-court brief, filed together with Cornerstone Family Research, that the U.S. District Court for the District of New Hampshire ruled correctly when it ruled against FFRF. The court wrote, “The Pledge…is a civic patriotic statement–an affirmation of adherence to the principles for which the Nation stands. Inclusion of the words “under God”…does not convert the Pledge into a prayer or religious exercise.”

However, the ADF brief also argues that the district court need not have ruled on the merits of the case at all, since FFRF has not proven that it even has sufficient grounds to bring the lawsuit in the first place: “The Plaintiffs lack standing because their alleged injuries are predicated on a fiction: that inclusion of the words ‘under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance transforms its recitation into a religious exercise or activity.”

The lawsuit Freedom From Religion Foundation v. United States was appealed to the 1st Circuit in October 2009.

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