An anonymous Acton family’s challenge of the daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in schools on the grounds that it violates students’ rights will go before the commonwealth’s highest court on Wednesday, Sept. 4.
The Acton family’s case, coming before the Massachusetts Supreme Court more than a year after it was heard in Middlesex Superior Court, argues that daily recitation of the pledge in schools violates the guarantee protection under the state’s equal rights laws.
Previously, David Niose, the lawyer representing the plaintiffs—named as Jane and John Doe to protect their children's identities—has said the religious content in the Pledge of Allegiance is discriminatory.
“If the Pledge of Allegiance said that we are one nation under Jesus you wouldn’t have any trouble understanding why Muslims, Hindus and Jews would feel that pledge discriminates against them,” said Niose. “It is really the same thing here. There has been a line drawn that includes those who believe the nation is one nation under God and if you’re not in that circle you’re excluded.”
According to a Religion News Service report on the Huffington Post, the focus on state laws in Doe v. Acton-Boxborough Regional School District is a bit of a departure from previous challenges of the pledge.
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.”
Challenges of the Pledge of Allegiance have been common after the addition of the phrase “under God” in 1954, which some argue violates the separation of church and state.
Leading a daily recitation the pledge in schools is law in Massachusetts, though many districts and educators consider participation voluntary.
In a statement this spring, A-B Superintendent Stephen Mills said that "school districts have maintained throughout this lawsuit that we have not engaged in unlawful discrimination against its students, specifically with respect to their religious beliefs as was alleged in this case."
Your Turn: What do you think about required daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools? Is it appropriately Patriotic? Unconstitutional? Both? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.