In the latest chapter of a seemingly never ending battle over the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court unanimously rejected a challenge to the daily voluntary recitation of the Pledge in Massachusetts schools. The ACLJ filed an amicus brief supporting the school district in the case, Doe v. Acton-Boxborough Regional School District.
As is the case in many states, Massachusetts schools begin each day with a voluntary recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. Consistent with United States Supreme Court cases concerning the freedom of speech, no teacher or student is required to participate or punished for failing to participate.
Atheist and Humanist parents and students, proceeding anonymously, brought suit claiming that this practice violated their right to equal protection under the Massachusetts Constitution. The suit claimed that the practice “marginalizes” Atheists and Humanists as “second-class citizens” who are “unpatriotic” and requested an order preventing the continued recitation of the Pledge so long as it includes “under God.” There was no evidence that the students had ever been punished, bullied, criticized, or otherwise mistreated for declining to recite the Pledge.
The ACLJ filed an amicus brief arguing that the phrase “under God” in the Pledge reflects the historical fact that the United States was founded upon a belief in God, and a belief that our inalienable rights come from God, not the government. The brief also noted that the United States Supreme Court and various other federal and state courts had recognized that patriotic exercises with religious references, such as reciting the Pledge, are constitutionally sound. Additionally, the brief explained that this lawsuit was simply a repackaged version of previous lawsuits challenging the Pledge that were rejected.
The court unanimously rejected the plaintiffs’ claims, noting that the voluntary recitation of the Pledge “is intended to instill values of patriotism and good citizenship.” The court held that there was no discrimination against Atheist and Humanist students because all students were free to decline to recite all or part of the Pledge. The students’ alleged feeling of being stigmatized and excluded due to their non-participation was not evidence of discrimination.
This decision is another win for common sense and another loss for those who would like to strip any and every remnant of religion from the public arena.
CeCe Heil is a Senior Counsel for the ACLJ specializing in public policy and global legal matters including the United Nations.
Used with the permission of the American Center for Law and Justice.