The Goal of the Pledge Suit

The Pledge of Allegiance plaintiff explains he is contesting 'Under God' to raise awareness of the 'plight of atheists.'

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In 1958, a Gallup poll revealed that 53 percent of our citizens would not vote for a Black candidate for president merely on the basis of race. In 1999, the last time the poll was taken, the figure was 4 percent. For Catholics, Jews, and women, the latest "would not vote for" figures were 4 percent, 6 percent, and 7 percent, respectively. Yet when it came to atheists, that 1999 poll showed that 48 percent of Americans still would not vote for someone merely on that religious basis. In my opinion, this sort of prejudice is in no small measure perpetuated when our government tells everyone with a coin in his or her pocket that our nation officially, openly--even proudly--proclaims that disrespecting atheists is fine.

Could my quest for equality backfire? Absolutely. I have little doubt that the coffers of the pro-God activists have been significantly enriched as a result of the Pledge litigation, and we've already heard calls to place God into our Constitution. Yes, the official antipathy towards atheistic Americans may grow to even greater levels, and even more blatant discrimination may ensue.

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But the same possibility of failure was present in the past civil rights campaigns. Thus I'm optimistic and planning on ultimate success. As Americans now opposed to these changes start to appreciate the plight of atheists, I hope they will increase their understanding of religious freedom. As we've seen with Brown v. Board of Education, the Nineteenth Amendment, and the Americans with Disabilities Act, when government no longer supports a pervasive personal prejudice, that personal prejudice becomes less pervasive. When our laws recognize that atheists can be role models as positive and strong as Americans of any other life stance, we will further promote the diversity that has so benefited our society. The possibility of an African-American, female, or disabled individual being elected president is no longer remote. The same can be, should be--and, I hope, soon will be--the case for one who is atheistic.

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