Appeals Court OK’s Pledge in NH Schools

Liberty Alerts, American Center for Law and Justice

It is encouraging to see another court decision that rejects the flawed legal challenges put forth by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF).  This time a federal appeals court upheld the constitutionality of the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools in New Hampshire.

The court declared there was no constitutional crisis and that the primary effect of the recitation of the pledge is to instill patriotism, not religion.   We couldn’t agree more.

As you may recall, we represented more than 40 members of Congress and more than 80,000 Americans in filing its amicus brief in this case and urged the appeals court to conclude that the Pledge did not violate the First Amendment.

In an unanimous decision issued November 12, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit reached this conclusion:  “We hold that the New Hampshire School Patriot Act and the voluntary, teacher-led recitation of the Pledge by the state’s public school students do not violate the Constitution. We affirm the order and judgment of the district court dismissing FFRF’s complaint.”

At issue was a New Hampshire statute, the New Hampshire School Patriot Act, that permitted students to voluntarily recite the Pledge in school.  A federal district court upheld the constitutionality of the state law and the FFRF appealed to the First Circuit.

In its decision, the appeals court also determined: “It takes more than the presence of words with religious content to have the effect of advancing religion, let alone to do so as a primary effect.”   Further, court asserted:  “The New Hampshire School Patriot Act’s primary effect is not the advancement of religion, but the advancement of patriotism through a pledge to the flag as a symbol of the nation.”

The First Circuit reached a significant and sound decision that underscores what most Americans understand – that the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance embraces patriotism, not religion.

The decision not only upholds the constitutionality of the Pledge, it rejects another fruitless attempt by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) to twist and distort the Constitution with its flawed reasoning.  This decision reflects a sensible realization that it’s permissible for state legislators – in this case – in New Hampshire – to enact a statute in which the primary effect, as the court correctly concluded, ‘is not the advancement of religion, but the advancement of patriotism through a pledge to the flag as a symbol of the nation.'”

The appeals court also rejected claims that the recitation of the Pledge is an endorsement of religions:   “The Pledge’s affirmation that ours is a ‘nation, under God’ is not a mere reference to the fact that many Americans believe in a deity, nor to the undeniable historical significance of religion in the founding of our nation. As the Supreme Court recognized in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943), to recite the Pledge is to ‘declare a belief’ and ‘affirm[] . . . an attitude of mind.’ Id. at 631, 633. In reciting the Pledge, a student affirms a belief in its description of the nation.”

The complete opinion is posted here.

We filed its amicus brief with the First Circuit on behalf of 42 members of the 111th Congress – including two U.S. Senators and 40 members of the U.S. House of Representatives.  We also represented more than 80,000 Americans who signed on to the ACLJ’s Committee to Protect “Under God” – including many parents of school-age children who attend public schools and desire to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in its entirety.

You can read the ACLJ amicus brief here.

The decision by the First Circuit comes just weeks after a federal district court in Wisconsin rejected another flawed legal challenge by the FFRF – this time challenging the constitutionality of engravings of the national motto and Pledge of Allegiance at the Capitol Visitor Center in Washington, D.C.  In September, a federal judge threw out that lawsuit concluding the plaintiffs did not have legal standing to bring the case.  In that challenge, the ACLJ represented 50 members of Congress in an amicus brief asking the court to reject the suit.  That brief is posted here.

This decision regarding the Pledge in NH schools represents a significant and sound decision that sends a message: patriotic, time-honored traditions should be embraced – not targeted for extinction – in our public schools.

Used with the permission of the American Center for Law and Justice.