Massachusetts’ highest court on Wednesday (Sept. 4) will consider whether the daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance is a violation of students’ rights.
Since the addition of the phrase “under God” in 1954, the pledge has been challenged repeatedly as a violation of the separation of church and state. In 2004, one case reached the Supreme Court, but ultimately failed, as have all previous challenges.
But the current case before the state’s Supreme Judicial Court, Doe v. Acton-Boxborough Regional School District, is different because lawyers for the plaintiffs, an anonymous atheist couple, won’t be arguing about federal law but rather that the compulsory recitation of the pledge violates the state’s equal rights laws. They argue that the daily recitation of the pledge is a violation of their guarantee of equal protection under those laws.
This change of tack in pledge challenges is modeled on a successful precedent laid down in the same court on gay marriage. In 2003, Massachusetts’ Supreme Judicial Court ruled 4-3 in favor of a same-sex couple seeking the right to marry under the state’s equal rights laws. Their win led to similar successful challenges in other state courts — something that could happen here if judges rule for the plaintiffs.
“You would then see a rash of state court lawsuits challenging the pledge all over the country,” said Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is arguing for the defendants. “A win for us would completely avoid that unnecessary harm. And it would affirm that it is not discriminatory to have the words ‘under God’ in the pledge.”
Could we get this lucky?
I have had the unfortunate task of leading schoolchildren in the pledge numerous times while workign for the public school system and I can tell you that when the "one nation under God" part rolled around I damn near gagged on it every time.
To be honest I am not a huge fan of ANY Pledge of Allegiance, it smacks a little of Nazi Germany in my opinion. However at the very least these children should not be forced to pledge their allegiance to a God that many of their families do not worship, and who they themselves are increasingly likely to deny once reaching adulthood.
I can tell you one thing, this case is going to drive the Fundamentalists out of their freaking minds!
I will keep my fingers crossed that it does even more than that.