Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Upholds “Under God” Phrase In Pledge of Allegiance

Andrew Hall, an atheist and father, demonstrates on Sept. 4, 2013 outside the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. He says recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in schools should be deemed unconstitutional in Massachusetts. Photo by G. Jeffrey MacDonald
Andrew Hall, an atheist and father, demonstrates on Sept. 4, 2013 outside the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. He says recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in schools should be deemed unconstitutional in Massachusetts. Photo by G. Jeffrey MacDonald

The highest court in Massachusetts upheld the legality of the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance on Friday (May 9), dealing a blow to atheist groups who challenged the pledge on anti-discrimination grounds.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court said the daily, teacher-led recitation of the pledge in state public schools does not violate the state’s equal rights amendment and is not discriminatory against the children of atheists, humanists and other nontheists.

“Participation is entirely voluntary,” the court wrote as a whole in the decision of Doe v. Acton-Boxborough Regional School District, brought by an anonymous humanist family. “(A)ll students are presented with the same options; and one student’s choice not to participate because of a religiously held belief is, as both a practical and a legal matter, indistinguishable from another’s choice to abstain for a wholly different, more mundane, and constitutionally insignificant reason.”

The ruling marks the second legal loss for atheists this week. On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that sectarian prayers given before government meetings were not a violation of the First Amendment’s guarantee of separation of church and state.

Secular activists were quick to condemn the ruling.

“This would have been a groundbreaking case for atheists and humanists, but the Court’s decision today simply reaffirms the status quo,” said Edwina Rogers, executive director of Secular Coalition for America, an umbrella organization of atheist, humanist and other secular groups. “Today’s decision tells our children that love for our country must be linked to a god belief, and that in and of itself is discriminatory.”

The loss is also a setback for a new legal strategy that secular groups employed after a string of challenges to the “under God” phrase. Here, they argued that “under God” violated the state constitution’s guarantee against discrimination rather than the U.S. Constitution’s promise of separation of church and state.

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SOURCE: Religion News Service
Kimberly Winston

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