The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts declared on Friday that the presence of the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance does not violate the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights.
The court was ruling on a lawsuit brought by an atheist family from the Acton-Boxborough Regional School District. Chief Justice Roderick Ireland wrote on behalf the court, which was unanimous in its decision that “[t]he daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance does not violate Article 1 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights.”
The couple contended that their children would be socially marginalized or thought unpatriotic if they did not take the Pledge daily, but the court found no evidence that such ostracizing took place. “There is no evidence,” Chief Justice Roderick wrote, “that the Doe children have ever been subjected to any type of punishment, bullying or other mistreatment, criticism, condemnation, or ostracism as a result of not participating in the pledge or not reciting the words ‘under God.'”
The Supreme Judicial Court said that because there was no evidence of the children’s rights having been violated, the court could not rule on the matter.
It also ruled that because taking the Pledge is a voluntary activity, and because the school does not track who does and does not take it daily, the government itself is neither endorsing nor enforcing a religious belief system.
“Reciting the pledge is a voluntary patriotic exercise, but it is not a litmus test for defining who is or is not patriotic. The schools confer no ‘privilege’ or ‘advantage’ of patriotism,” Chief Justice Ireland wrote, “to those who recite the pledge in its entirety.’’
“The fact that a school or other public entity operates a voluntary program or offers an activity that offends the religious beliefs of one or more individuals, and leaves them feeling ‘stigmatized’ or ‘excluded’ as a result,” he added, “does not mean that the program or activity necessarily violates equal protection principles.”
[“Pledge” via Department of Agriculture on Flickr, Creative Commons license]