FREEHOLD - A family who believes the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance is discriminatory toward atheist children is suing the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District.

The American Humanist Association says the phrase, added in 1954, "marginalizes atheist and humanist kids as something less than ideal patriots."
Sean Atterbury is a student at Mattawan-Aberdeen Regional High School, and describes himself as an atheist. He recites the pledge as it reads now, and it does not bother him.

The anonymous plaintiffs are suing the superintendent and the district, taking issue with the phrase. 

"It's an equal protection lawsuit claiming that the state statute requiring daily recitation of the pledge of allegiance in public schools discriminates against atheist and humanist families because it portrays true patriots as God-believers," says David Niose, of the American Humanist Association.

Many, like Carmella Livera, of Piscataway, believe the pledge is fine just the way it is and see no reason to change it now. "Being a very religious person, that would offend me," she says. "I would feel very offended by that."

School district lawyer David Rubin says the district is merely following a state law that requires schools to recite the pledge every day. "We are disappointed that this national organization has targeted Matawan-Aberdeen for merely obeying the law as it stands," he says. "Instead of directing their arguments to the state, which has imposed this statutory requirement on all 590 school districts ... they are forcing one district to divert time, energy and resources from the education of its students to defend this case."

Rubin says individual students do not have to participate.    

Federal courts have upheld the constitutionality of reciting the pledge, as long as non-believers can "opt out." The American Humanist Association says that is not good enough because students who choose not to participate are made to feel like second-class citizens whose patriotism is suspect.