On May 9, 2014, the Supreme Court of the state of Massachusetts came to a final decision declaring that the Pledge of Allegiance is constitutional (CNN Library). According to CNN.com’s article entitled, “Massachusetts Highest Court: Pledge of Allegiance Not Religious”, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts rules that the Pledge does not discriminate against atheists, saying that the words “under God” represent a patriotic, not a religious, exercise. In another source but by the same website, authors Ray Sanchez and Lawrence Crook III, all previous attempts to remove the mention of God in the Pledge have been denied. Although many states across the country have tried to eliminate the one word that causes commotion among many parents and even the faculty and staff countless boards of education, the cases have failed. Although many cases have failed, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts considered arguments seeking the removal of the reference based on
discrimination. The plaintiffs choose to be unidentified, but are fine revealing where they are from which is Boston. They argued that the Pledge violates thee Equal Rights Amendment of the state Constitution. At the state level, this was the first case regarding this issue. The executive director of the American Humanist Association, an atheist group that provided legal services for the plaintiffs, Roy Speckhardt, called the decision a “setback”. He also said that the group felt confident about a similar case in New Jersey a week before that seeks the same change. The Pledge being voluntary and a “fundamentally patriotic exercise, not a religious one” is the conclusion the Massachusetts court came to. The decision had been made in claim that the plaintiffs failed to prove that reciting the pledge had a negative connotation. Speckhardt said that the recitation of the Pledge resulted in some students being “ostracized”, which means to exclude someone from a society or group. The reason being that they are atheists and the government was against bullying and prejudice against those children. To establish their credibility, the end of the article states, “The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has high-profile and precedent-setting experience deciding cases hinging on the Equal Rights Amendment of the Massachusetts Constitution. In 2003, Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage with the Supreme Judicial Court’s landmark Goodridge decision.”
In another article posted on the same day, May 9th, 2014, Religion News Service (RNS) revealed an article by Kimberly Winston titled, “Atheists Lose Fight Over ‘Under God’ at Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.” The previous article had focused a little more on Massachusetts where as RNS focused on the “blow to atheist groups who challenged the pledge on anti-discrimination grounds.” Not only does this article view the points of atheists, but it also recognizes other groups that were unmentioned in the previous article. For example, “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.” Said by an anonymous humanist family, they stated that “participation is entirely voluntary.” Although that was a quote from a family, the court had also decided as a whole that it was true regarding the decision of Doe v. Acton-Boxborough Regional School District. Another event that was not mentioned in the previous article was that the ruling was that it was the second legal loss that week regarding how the case on sectarian prayers given before government meetings were ruled as not a violation of the First Amendment’s guarantee of separation of church and state. Stated after that was, “Secular activists were quick to condemn the ruling.” Edwina Rogers, executive director of Secular Coalition for America, an organization of atheist, humanist and other secular groups, claims that if the case had gone through, it would have been a “groundbreaking” case for atheists and humanists. She also mentions “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.”
Here is a video by Hemant Mehta, author of friendlyatheist.com, and his view of the Massachusetts’ Pledge of Allegiance case and why he thinks this case is different than other past cases regarding the pledge across the country.
According to the article “Pledge of Allegiance challenged in Massachusetts Supreme Court”, by Sophia Rosenbaum from NBC News, the Boston family is trying to remove the two words “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance. Rosenbaum explains the family wants to remove these two words because students in public schools recite the pledge on a daily basis and the family believes this violates the state’s equal rights laws. Rosenbaum states that there were past cases on the same issue of the words “under God” violating the Constitution’s separation of church and state. However, this family is making a different argument. David Niose the representative of this family says the use of “under God” violates the Equal Rights Amendment of the Massachusetts Constitution and is an issue of discrimination. Noise states, “It validates believers as good patriots and it invalidates atheists as non-believers at best and unpatriotic at worst.” Not all agree with Niose’s words. A family in a near by school district states they want their child to still recite the pledge of how it originally is. Eric Rassbach deputy general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, is helping the family that still wants their child to recite the pledge the same way. He says, “Most people do not view reciting the Pledge of Allegiance as saying a prayer. It would be terrible to enshrine in the law this kind of allergy to God that plaintiffs have.” Rassbach also mentions that it is illegal since 1943 to force someone to recite the pledge. This happened because of the U.S Supreme Court case West Virginia State Board v. Barnette ruled students didn’t have to recite the pledge and it was beneficial to Jehovah’s Witnesses because they can’t salute to any symbols, according to their religion. Both representatives said a decision will be made in the next six months by the seven Massachusetts Supreme Court judges. Rassbach states “If they succeed in their goals here, they will attempt to replicate it elsewhere.”
CNN Library. “Pledge of Allegiance Fast Facts.” CNN.com. 11 Nov. 2014. Web. 14 Dec. 2014.
Rosenbaum, Sophia. “Pledge of Allegiance Challenged in Massachusetts Supreme Court.” NBCNews.com. 4 Sept. 2013. Web. 14 Dec. 2014.
Sanchez, Ray and Lawrence Crook III. “Massachusetts Highest Court: Pledge of Allegiance Not Religious.” 9 May. 2014. Web. 14 Dec. 2014.
Winston, Kimberly. “Atheists Lose Fight Over ‘Under God’ at Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.” 9 May. 2014. Web. 14 Dec. 2014.
Authors: Amy Dinh and Calvin Vong