Humanism on the Move


March 17, 2010

The American Humanist Association last week decried a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that the governmental use of the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance does not violate the U.S. Constitution. In a 2-1 decision, the court stated that the phrase does not form an unacceptable government endorsement of religion in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Thus, they found a California statute permitting teachers to lead students in recitation of the Pledge does not violate the Establishment Clause.

"I'm disappointed with the court's ruling today," said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. "What unites us should be a civic bond, not a religious tenet. Government should respect Americans from all walks of life and backgrounds, yet nontheists are still in many ways treated like second-class citizens in this country."

The case was originally brought by Michael Newdow, a lawyer with the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, on behalf of his daughter against the Elk Grove Unified School District in 2000. Newdow argued that school children should not be required to recite the Pledge. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court originally ruled in his favor in 2002; however, the Bush administration appealed, arguing that the pledge is a patriotic exercise, not government-backed religion. The U.S. Supreme Court then overturned the ruling in 2004 on the technical issue of standing. Addressing the issue of standing, Newdow sued a second time.

The AHA isn't the only organization who has come out against the phrase in the Pledge. American Atheists California held a demonstration today at the San Francisco 9th Circuit Court of Appeals building to call on Congress to repeal the act that added the words "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance.

"As long as these two words remain, the Pledge will continue to be a wedge in American unity, dividing us along religious lines. Congress needs to take the lead in restoring the Pledge of Allegiance to its pre-Cold War text and once again make the United States 'one nation indivisible,'" said Dave Kong, American Atheists Director of State Operations.


The Appignani Humanist Legal Center, legal arm of the American Humanist Association, filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the Supreme Court on Monday, arguing that the Court should affirm a decision made by a federal appeals court that the University of California Hastings College of the Law acted appropriately when the they denied recognition to a Christian-only student group. Click here to read the brief.

The lawsuit involves a chapter of the Christian Legal Society (CLS), who was barred from receiving school funds, priority access to facilities and use of Hastings' logo because they did not permit non-orthodox Christians and gays to become voting members or leaders. Hastings had denied a request from the group that they be exempt from the school's nondiscrimination policy, which prohibited student groups from discriminating on the basis of "race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, disability, age, sex or sexual orientation" as a condition for receiving access to school resources. The AHLC's brief argues that Hastings and other publicly-run institutions or entities can establish a conditional limited public forum for free speech, as long as the conditions for using the forum are neutral and generally applied.

"A University has every right to prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion or sexual orientation among student groups that receive school resources," said Bob Ritter, AHLC attorney and counsel of record for the brief. "Public schools have an interest in making sure all students feel welcome, whether they are religious, non-religious, straight or gay. And ensuring that their resources don't go to groups that violate policies of nondiscrimination is an appropriate measure to keep universities inclusive."


The Secular Coalition for America has been fighting over the past two weeks against a proposed amendment to a Senate jobs bill that would have reauthorized the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program–a program that uses taxpayer-funded vouchers to subsidize religious institutions. Thousands of SCA members and supporters responded, and the amendment was successfully defeated.

"It's only the latest sign that the secular movement is growing," said the SCA in an e-mail to supporters.