The American Humanist Association on Monday told the Massachusetts Superior Court that the daily recital of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools was a violation of the state’s constitution.
In the case, Jane Doe, et. als. v. Acton-Boxborough Regional School District et al, the group is representing an atheist family who claims that the Massachusetts constitution’s equal rights amendment prohibits reciting the pledge because the anthem contains the phrase “under God.”
“The daily recitation in public schools of a pledge declaring that the nation is ‘under God’ is discriminatory toward atheists and humanists,” said David Niose, president of the American Humanist Association and lead attorney for the plaintiffs in the case. “No child should go to school each day to have the class declare that her religious beliefs are wrong in an exercise that portrays her and her family as less patriotic than believers.”
The Pledge of Allegiance was originally composed in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, a Christian socialist and the cousin of another famous American socialist, Edward Bellamy. At the height of the Cold War in 1954, Congress added the phrase “under God” to the pledge.
In March of 2010, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Pledge of Allegiance did not violated the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, which prohibits the government from favoring one religion over another.
But unlike that case, the American Humanist Association has based its claims on the Massachusetts constitution.
Massachusetts law requires public school teachers to begin each day with a recitation of the pledge. The group said the “under God” version of the pledge “defines patriotism according to a particular religious belief” and that nondiscriminatory means should be used to instill patriotism in students.
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