Quantcast
Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
Massachusetts court hears Pledge of Allegiance challenge
First Published Sep 04 2013 04:31 pm • Last Updated Sep 04 2013 04:31 pm

Boston • A family asked Massachusetts’ highest court Wednesday to ban the daily practice of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools, arguing that the words "under God" in the pledge discriminate against atheists.

In arguments before the Supreme Judicial Court, a lawyer for an atheist Acton couple who sued on behalf of their three children argued that the reference to God suggests that "good patriots are God believers" and nonbelievers are less patriotic or unpatriotic.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

David Niose, an attorney representing the family and the American Humanist Association, rejected the argument that because the pledge is voluntary, it does not discriminate against atheists.

"The exercise itself still discriminates. It defines patriotism a certain way," Niose told the seven justices.

A lawyer for the Acton-Boxborough Regional School District argued that the pledge is not mandatory and students can opt out by either leaving out the reference to God or by not reciting the pledge.

"There is no religious bias in the statute," said Geoffrey Bok, an attorney for the school district.

Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel for The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, told the justices that the phrase "under God" has a long history as an expression of a "political philosophy" and is not a religious declaration.

"It’s always been used to limit first the power of the king and now the power of government," Rassbach said after the hearing. "It’s not a religious statement ... no one is getting up there and saying a prayer when they say the Pledge of Allegiance."

Last year, a Massachusetts judge found that the words "under God" in the pledge did not violate state law or the school’s anti-discrimination policy. Judge S. Jane Haggerty found that including "under God" in a voluntary patriotic exercise does not "convert the exercise into a prayer." The family appealed the ruling.

The case stems from a lawsuit filed by the couple in 2010. Their name was not disclosed.


story continues below
story continues below

Niose said the family is seeking a ruling that declares unconstitutional the current daily classroom recitation of the pledge.

The original pledge was adopted by Congress in 1942 and did not contain the words "under God." The phrase was added in 1954.

The justices peppered Niose with questions about how far the ban on the pledge should extend, noting that the pledge is recited at sporting events and other public gatherings. Chief Justice Roderick Ireland noted that there are other references to God made in public places, including at state courthouses where court officers include "God save the Commonwealth of Massachusetts" in a daily recitation.

Niose said those references are "ceremonial" and not recited on a daily basis by children for their 13 years in public school.

The court did not immediately rule. Decisions typically are published several months after oral arguments.

Any ruling by the court would apply only to Massachusetts because the language of the Pledge of Allegiance is set by federal law.



Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment


About Reader Comments


Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Videos
Jobs
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Login to the Electronic Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.