A federal judge in New Hampshire has upheld the inclusion of the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, ruling that the reference to God does not violate the First Amendment to the U.S.
Judge Steven McAuliffe ruled that a New Hampshire statute requiring that the Pledge of Allegiance be
voluntarily recited in the state's school districts is constitutional. Judge McAuliffe stated that the law was enacted "to enhance instruction in the nation's history, and foster a sense of patriotism...Its primary effect neither advances nor inhibits religion."
The state law was challenged by Michael Newdow and the Freedom from Religion Foundation, an atheist organization. Newdow filed the suit against two New Hampshire school districts and the U.S. Congress. The lawsuit claimed that the inclusion of the words "under God" in the Pledge through action of the Congress in 1954 amounted to an establishment of religion.
Newdow is best known for the lawsuit he filed in California on behalf of his daughter concerning the Pledge. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, famous for its outrageously liberal decisions, ruled that the Pledge
violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court overruled the Ninth Circuit decision, saying that Newdow did not have standing because he did not have custody of his daughter and did not have the right to bring suit on her behalf.
However, Judge McAuliffe concluded that the New Hampshire Pledge statute "continues the policy of teaching our country's history to the elementary and secondary pupils of this state...Patriotism, rather than support of theism over atheism or agnosticism, was the
guiding force behind the enactment of the New Hampshire Pledge statute."
Judge McAuliffe declared that the Pledge is "a civic patriotic statement." His opinion states: "The Pledge of Allegiance is not a religious prayer...and its recitation in schools does not constitute a 'religious exercise.' ...Inclusion of the words 'under God' does not convert the Pledge into a prayer...It does not address God in any way."
The federal judge summarized his conclusions this way: "The Constitution prohibits the government from
establishing a religion, or coercing one to support or participate in religion, a religious exercise, or prayer. It does not mandate that government refrain from all civic, cultural, or historic references to God."
Judge McAuliffe further rejected arguments that students were coerced into participating in the Pledge. He said that the statute was clear that participation was completely voluntary.
Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice applauded the New Hampshire ruling. "This is a sound, well-reasoned decision...The words 'one nation under
God' simply echo the sentiments found in the Declaration of Independence and recognize the undeniable truth that our freedoms come from God...While the First Amendment affords atheists complete freedom to disbelieve, it does not compel the federal judiciary to redact religious references in every area of public life to suit atheistic sensibilities."
In a related case, the U.S. Supreme Court has rejected an appeal concerning a Florida Pledge of Allegiance statute. That law requires public school students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance every day unless they have their parents' written permission excusing them. A federal appeals court had ruled that the law was constitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case, allowing the ruling to stand.