[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Friday that a New Hampshire law requiring schools to schedule voluntary recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance is constitutional. The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) [advocacy website], its members Jan and Pat Doe, and their three children, who are students at New Hampshire public schools, brought the lawsuit against the US government, the Hanover and Dresden school districts and the School Administrative Unit. The suit challenged the 2002 New Hampshire School Patriot Act [text], which requires schools to authorize a time during the day for the voluntary recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. FFRF claims that the recitation of the pledge in New Hampshire’s public schools violates the Establishment Clause, Free Exercise Clause, Equal Protection Clause,p and Due Process Clause of the US Constitution [Cornell LII backgrounder], as well as the New Hampshire Constitution and federal and state law. Upholding the law, Chief Judge Sandra Lynch wrote:
In reciting the Pledge, students promise fidelity to our flag and our nation, not to any particular God, faith, or church. 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 appeals court’s ruling affirms a 2009 district court ruling. Plaintiffs were represented by atheist Michael Newdow [JURIST news archive], who plans to request a rehearing [AP report] by the full First Circuit.
Other federal courts have also upheld similar state laws. In October, the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit [official website] ruled [JURIST report] that the words “one state under God” in the Texas Pledge of Allegiance do not violate the First Amendment. In March, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] ruled [JURIST report] that teacher-led recitation of the pledge in public schools does not violate the constitution. In 2008, the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit [official website] upheld [JURIST report] part of a Florida law that requires students in grades kindergarten through 12 to obtain parental permission in order to be excused from reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.