Mass. Supreme Court to hear case against’under God’ in Pledge of Allegiance

Massachusetts’ Supreme Judicial Court has agreed to hear the appeal of a non-religious family that’s challenging the mandatory daily recitation … Continued

Massachusetts’ Supreme Judicial Court has agreed to hear the appeal of a non-religious family that’s challenging the mandatory daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in their children’s classrooms.

The family, who are secular humanists, claim that the phrase “under God” in the pledge is a violation of the state’s constitutional ban on religious discrimination.

In June, a lower court ruled against the family, saying the required recitation of the pledge was not discriminatory because it did not uphold one religion over another. The family appealed, and will now gain a hearing from the state’s highest court.

The battle to remove “under God” from the pledge has been a long and, so far, unsuccessful one within atheist circles. California atheist Michael Newdow unsuccessfully argued for its removal before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2004.

This time, the suit seeks protection under a state constitution’s equal protection measure, not under the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of the separation of church and state.

“There is very little case law that precedes this,” said Bill Burgess, director of the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center, which is representing the plaintiffs. “The court will be making new law when it issues its decision.”

Massachusetts has a history of leading the vanguard in discrimination cases. In 2003, the same court ruled that it was discriminatory, and therefore unconstitutional, to prohibit gay marriage, becoming the first state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

“The gay marriage decision is a signpost for what the court might do here,” Burgess said. “It is a similar principle and the court has shown the courage in the past to do something ahead of its field and we are hoping for a similar result here.”

Supporting the recitation of the pledge is The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing the Knights of Columbus and another family that wants to uphold the recitation of the pledge.

“We are confident that the Supreme Judicial Court will uphold the pledge just like every other court that has decided this question,” said Diana Verm, an attorney for the Becket Fund .

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  • XVIIHailSkins

    Requiring that school-children pledge allegiance to the state has always struck me as a bit totalitarian and completely foreign to the character of the US and our founding documents. That said, if our children are going to pledge allegiance to the state, then requiring them to simultaneously pledge allegiance to “God” (a clear and straightforward appeal to the Judeo-Christian God, but even if you want to argue that the term is ambiguous, you’re still leaving out polytheists, atheists, agnostics, Buddhists, and innumerable other denominations) is a grotesque violation of the first amendment. Our Christian majority adopts the most fundamentally anti-American rhetorical position by arguing that “God” ought to stay in the pledge for no reason other than the fact that 80% of our population more or less believes in him. This is an appeal to the majority at the expense of a “religious” minority, and its all they have to stand on. I hope the court makes the proper ruling and that one day this stain on the fabric of our democracy will disappear.

  • di89

    Given that the original (which was by the way written by someone who would be considered leftist) did not contain “under God” which was added later to cater to certain portions of the population for religious reasons, and originally was accompanied by a one-armed salute that got changed to hand over heart when Hitler made that salute ugly…the idea that it cannot be changed is silly. Reminds me of the people who tried to tell the Pope he couldn’t change the Tridentine Mass because that was how it always had been…yes he could and no it wasn’t.

  • XVIIHailSkins

    All very true, the root of the issue is that reactionaries invariably care more about the perceived “slight” to their religion posed by the idea of removing God than they do for the blatant and ongoing slight to the first amendment.