A New Hampshire federal judge dismissed atheist activist Michael Newdow’s constitutional challenge to recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in Hanover, New Hampshire public schools. Judge Steven McAuliffe ruled that the schools’ morning Pledge recitation—including the words “one Nation under God” did not violate the First Amendment because saying the Pledge is completely voluntary and the Pledge is not a prayer.
The judge dismissed the case in response to a motion filed by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty on behalf of three Hanover families and the Knights of Columbus. The Becket Fund’s clients are children who attend the targeted public schools and who want to keep saying the Pledge of Allegiance complete with the words “under God”; the parents of those children; and the Knights of Columbus, a fraternal organization that spearheaded the effort to add "under God" to the Pledge 55 years ago.
“Judge McAuliffe couldn’t have gotten it more right when he said that the Pledge is not a prayer – it is an ‘affirmation of adherence to the principles for which the Nation stands.’ And one of those principles is that our inalienable rights are not created by the State but endowed by a Creator,” said Becket Fund founder and president Kevin “Seamus” Hasson.
The Becket Fund’s argument to the court explains that the two words “under God” in the Pledge encapsulate a foundational idea in American law and political philosophy: that the rights of the human person are inalienable — and that the power of the state is correspondingly limited — precisely because those rights exist prior to the state and come from a source beyond it.
The Becket Fund made the same argument to the San Francisco-based Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in a similar Pledge of Allegiance lawsuit , also brought by Newdow. The decision in that appeal, argued in December 2007, is still pending.