Atheists in Massachusetts fight ‘under God’ in Pledge of Allegiance
The American Humanist Association announced Monday that it would appeal a court ruling in Massachusetts that held the “under God” wording of the Pledge of Allegiance did not violate the state’s constitution.
Massachusetts law requires public school teachers to begin each day with a recitation of the pledge. However, students can refuse to recite the pledge and remain silent.
In the case, Jane Doe, et. als. v. Acton-Boxborough Regional School District et al, the group represented an atheist family who claimed that reciting the pledge violated Massachusetts nondiscrimination law because the anthem contains the phrase “under God.” But Massachusetts Superior Court Judge S. Jane Haggerty held that the pledge was not an affirmation of any religious truth and therefore was not discriminatory.
“No child should go to school every day, from kindergarten to grade twelve, to be faced with an exercise that defines patriotism according to religious belief,” said the plaintiffs’ attorney David Niose, who is also AHA president. “If conducting a daily classroom exercise that marginalizes one religious group while exalting another does not violate basic principles of equal rights and nondiscrimination, then I don’t know what does.”
The Pledge of Allegiance was originally composed in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, a Christian socialist. Congress added the phrase “under God” to the pledge at the height of the Cold War in 1954
In March of 2010, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Pledge of Allegiance did not violate the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, which prohibits the government from favoring one religion over another. But the American Humanist Association has ignored the First Amendment argument in its case, instead basing its claims on Massachusetts’ guarantee of equal protection under the law.
“If the federal government decides to write a discriminatory Pledge, the Massachusetts Constitution nevertheless protects children in the Commonwealth from the discrimination that would occur from daily recitation of the Pledge in classrooms,” Niose said.
[Image via U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan Public Affairs, Creative Commons licensed]