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Acton Family Wants "Under God" Cut from the Pledge of Allegiance

Doe vs. the Acton-Boxborough Regional School District: Where do you stand when it comes to your children reciting "one nation under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance?

An atheist Acton family that has chosen to remain anonymous is suing the Acton-Boxborough Regional School District, declaring that saying “one nation under God” during the Pledge of Allegiance discriminates against their children.

State law dictates that schools deliver the pledge every day, but does not force students to recite it. Despite this, the local family says the phrase “under God” should be taken out of the pledge.

Middlesex Superior Court Judge Jane Haggerty heard both sides of the argument in court Feb. 13, and will decide the issue in the coming months. According to David Niose, the lawyer representing the plaintiffs, named as Jane and John Doe to protect their children's identities, the religious content in the daily pledge 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 Superintendent of Schools Stephen Mills, the case has cost the school district $10,000.

“I’m in the middle of trying to get a $70 million budget approved for my school and here I am spending my day in court,” said Mills. “I would prefer to spend the money on textbooks. I’m already getting emails from people far away saying things like, ‘don’t you know Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior?’ But it comes with the job.”

Mills has 34 years of experience in public education and said that he has experienced students choosing not to recite the Pledge of Allegiance but never once has a student been discriminated against or punished for making that choice.

KarenL February 16, 2012 at 02:18 PM
Bullying is someone with power abusing those with less power. That is not the case here. Perhaps you could explain this to your 8 yr old. If you read the comments above you would understand why the family's name is not out there. I can't imagine you would do any less to protect your family from the angry and hateful. I notice you have not used your name. It is, unfortunately, a normal reaction to respond to ideas that threaten our own with hostility and anger.
Allen Nitschelm February 16, 2012 at 02:26 PM
Read the comment by John Davis above. He is correct. Atheism is not a religion, it is the lack of religion. The "tax dollars" being "wasted" so far is $10,000. There are about 20,000 people in Acton so that is 50 cents per person. The raises (not the salaries) given to our school employees in the latest contract negotiations are approximately $6 million. This is after the town and finance committees recommended "net zero" contracts. This works out to about $300 per person. Again, where this belongs is up to the lawyers and court to decide. If it is in the wrong court, the likely costs to our school district will be very limited as it will be dismissed for being filed in the wrong venue. Finally, I see nothing wrong with the people choosing to remain anonymous. There are a lot of crazy people out there who might take inappropriate actions. Also, I think we can agree that this must be driven by the parents, and even if all the children are supportive, they are minors and should not face repercussions because their parents are standing up for what they believe.
Allen Nitschelm February 16, 2012 at 02:28 PM
Well said Karen.
x February 17, 2012 at 01:49 AM
To My Flock, As if the schools in Acton didn't have enough to deal with. What a luxury for parents in a school district... litigating the Pledge of Allegiance. Reverend E. Raleigh Pimperton III
Jeff Barry February 17, 2012 at 02:45 AM
>> Atheism is not a religion, it is the lack of religion. Wrong. I am an agnostic. *I* lack religion because I don't know what to think or believe about god. Atheism, on the other hand, makes a very definite statement about god, ie that god does not exist. That statement is just as unprovable as theistic believer's statement that there is a god. You should meet some of the Atheists I have met who are just as insistent and overbearing as the worst of the religious fundamentalists I have also met. When you listen to someone like that it becomes clear that they BELIEVE in an unprovable and that, by definition, is faith, the basis of religion. Atheists like that are religious people. If Atheists had an "aBible" to wave around quote ad nauseam like fundamentalist Bible thumpers do, would it then be clear that Atheism is a religion?
Thomas J. Dyer February 17, 2012 at 03:02 AM
How about the schools offer the pledge twice, the first time with the words under god and the second time without.
Allen Nitschelm February 17, 2012 at 03:06 AM
Hi Jeff, As I said above, go back and re-read the previous post by John Davis. Having no religion (atheist or agnostic) is not a religion, it is lack of religion. Are atheists "like" religious people in that they have a strong, unprovable beliefs? Yes. But that doesn't mean they are religious, it just means they are opinionated. This is obviously well off topic, but let me make one more point if I may. I think it is important what atheists believe, not what label you want to give them. Isn't it obvious that most atheists would say "they are not religious"? I think it is up to them to decide whether the label fits, not you or I. But the clearest, most straightforward answer is that religious beliefs are based on a belief in God. There are many other things people take on faith (lets say the speed of light is as fast as something can ever go) that no one would call a religious belief, even though many people believe them wholeheartedly and would wave around a book (in this case, a physics textbook) to prove their point.
Allen Nitschelm February 17, 2012 at 03:07 AM
Not a bad idea for discussion.
Jeff Barry February 17, 2012 at 03:17 AM
>> Bullying is someone with power abusing those with less power. That is not the case here. Perhaps you could explain this to your 8 yr old. A number of people have presented this case as individuals going up against the government, as righteous underdogs vs big bad government. But there is another way to look at this case, that is as a couple of Atheists trying to force their beliefs on hundreds of children via a lawyer-driven, judicial fiat imposed upon the schools. THAT sounds like bullying to me. If the the Pledge is indeed in need of updating or elimination, then address the issue in the state legislature or in Congress where The People can make themselves heard rather than having this decided by judges listening to bickering lawyers.
Charlie Kadlec February 17, 2012 at 04:01 AM
Interesting discussion, but it is loosing track of the main problem (for me) with this lawsuit : the school department is the wrong target, they did not write the Pledge and may not be able to legally change it even if they tried. The Anonymouses should direct their complaint at Congress, perhaps join others who are already doing the same. "In God We Trust" appears on all US currency. Would the Anonymouses sue Roche Brothers for using it ? Charlie Kadlec Acton
Jeff Barry February 17, 2012 at 04:03 AM
>> Are atheists "like" religious people in that they have a strong, >> unprovable beliefs? Yes. Thank you. >> But that doesn't mean they are religious, it just means they >> are opinionated. What separates one religion from another is differing sets of beliefs. A religion is a particular set of beliefs about god. A belief that there is no god is a specific belief about god. It is a religion. The fact that some Atheists are less ardent than others is irrelevant. Some Christians are less ardent than other Christians, but you would not say Christianity is not a religion because not all Christians believe exactly the same thing. >> There are many other things people take on faith (lets say the >> speed of light is as fast as something can ever go) that no one would >> call a religious belief, even though many people believe them >> wholeheartedly and would wave around a book (in this case, a >> physics textbook) to prove their point. Bad argument. A good physics textbook will not only tell you the speed of light but it will also tell you how to measure the speed of light. Then you can go out, get the equipment, and measure the speed of light for yourself. On the other hand statements about god in, say, the Bible cannot be verified. You are comparing apples to metaphysics.
Jeff Barry February 17, 2012 at 04:06 AM
>> The Anonymouses should direct their complaint at Congress, >> perhaps join others who are already doing the same. A point I have made repeatedly. Thank you.
Allen Nitschelm February 17, 2012 at 04:47 AM
That may be how you would address it, but not how this family is addressing it. Their way of addressing it may not be what most people would do, but they have every right to do so.
Allen Nitschelm February 17, 2012 at 04:57 AM
Sorry, I think you have your "beliefs" mixed up! If a Christian believes in one thing and another Christian believes in something else, we call them "Protestants" and "Catholics." They are both believers. If someone does not believe, we call them atheists. A lack of a belief does not make you a member of the "religious club." I just don't see how you can make that stretch. Let me try putting it this way: everyone has a belief about God. Those who believe in God are called religious; those who do not are called atheists. They all have beliefs, none are provable, but the believers are religious and the non-believers are not. When atheists seek to change laws to remove God, they are not acting under a religious cover but under a secular cover. That doesn't mean they aren't as opinionated as anyone else. Not sure why this is such a sticking point...50 comments later! My speed of light argument isn't bad, you misread it. Go back and read it again please. I said "to go faster than..." which is a theory, not a fact. Most of science is based on theories. All of mathematics is based on theories. We happen to believe them and think they are "facts" but they are not.
Allen Nitschelm February 17, 2012 at 05:21 AM
Hi Charlie, So if the school uses a textbook and a parent strenuously objects to the point of going to court, they should not sue the school but the state (for mandating the curriculum) or the textbook publisher (for writing the book)? Why not sue the entity that is forcing the kids to read the book? If the schools did not make students recite the pledge, but the pledge still existed in law elsewhere, should the parents still sue the state or the federal government? No, because they aren't being put in an uncomfortable position since they don't have to recite it. If the schools have no discretion in the matter, then the judge will dismiss it and tell the family to take their compaint elsewhere.
Michael February 17, 2012 at 05:30 AM
Hi Allen, Actually, no need to worry about me "wasting" tax dollars. All the information was public and I did all the research myself so no staff time was wasted. Everything I had I presented at a public meeting of the conservation committee (where it was basically dismissed as irrelavent), but remains unanswered and no one appears to be accountable.
Michael February 17, 2012 at 05:35 AM
My point was simply that saying something is in the Constitution versus what something is interpreted to say are two distinct things and that needs to be made clear.
Michael February 17, 2012 at 05:37 AM
I do. Forcing one's beliefs on others is a form of bullying. Students are not forced to say the pledge right now are they? Perhaps they will take "under God" out and those students who want to say it can opt-in if they feel strongly about it.
Jeff Barry February 17, 2012 at 07:16 AM
>> If someone does not believe, we call them atheists. No, we call them agnostics. I know about them since I am one. Belief is a different sort of animal than opinion; belief is often the push behind opinion. As an agnostic I lack belief about god and therefore lack opinion about god. [ Obviously I do have certain strong beliefs, tho, and have strong opinions driven by said beliefs. By now you might have noticed. :-) ] Our experience sets are evidently different. In my past I have been subjected to Atheist proselytizing every bit as obnoxious as what I've also gotten from Bible thumpers. Experiencing Atheists like that made it quite clear to me that Atheism is a religion with as a wide range of intensity of belief as any other religion, and that the people at the extremes of either have basically the same personality type. If you have missed out on such experiences then I am happy for you. >> Not sure why this is such a sticking point...50 comments later! You've been hanging right in there with me, Allen, so you might ask yourself the same question. As for me, I have a problem with extreme religiousity -- no matter what the religion or its god count -- when it starts to impose itself on others.
Allen Nitschelm February 17, 2012 at 11:32 AM
Hi Jeff, 1.Being a member of a group or related to another group does not make you an automatic authority. How you feel is just that, a personal feeling. That is not "proof" of your position. 2. In our 50 (now 100) thread discussion, I think we are digressing on a very small and basically irrelevent point. I don't think the "lack of belief in God" is a religion and you do. Fine, we disagree. I don't know what this has to do with a family who sues the schools. I guess your point is that they are acting with a religious ferver? And I would say they have strong beliefs or opinions. Either way, they have a right to sue (obviously, because they have done so). I have come to believe something else in this discussion. Many well-meaning members of society would use "shame" to discourage this type of behavior. If someone stands up for their rights (in this case, the right to sue) and members of the public disagree, they will attempt to publicly humiliate them. (Talk about bullying!) We may individually disagree about what this family has done, we might not take the steps they have taken (obviously, they are the first, so none of us has taken these steps), but they clearly have the absolute, Constitutional right to do so. As we all know, anyone can sue anyone in our society.
Allen Nitschelm February 17, 2012 at 11:38 AM
Michael, You wrote: "Forcing one's beliefs on others is a form of bullying. Students are not forced to say the pledge right now are they? Perhaps they will take "under God" out and those students who want to say it can opt-in if they feel strongly about it." So it is your position that anytime someone goes to court to enforce the law, and (let's imagine) the court rules in favor of the plaintiff, that the plaintiff is a "bully" because they have used the courts to "force one's beliefs on others." Hmm, interesting. So perhaps in our attempt to be politically correct about bullying we can remove the court system entirely. Why do we need it? I mean, it just allows bullies to run rampant over the rest of us. Let's just let the politicians decide everything because that is "democracy" and "we can vote politicians out of office." Then we have those pesky "activist" judges who impose their will on the rest of us. They are unelected! They can't be removed when they make poor decisions! How awful! What bullies!
Allen Nitschelm February 17, 2012 at 11:42 AM
Also, Jeff, read this: http://atheism.about.com/library/FAQs/ath/blathm_rel_religion.htm
sidlevin February 17, 2012 at 03:45 PM
My Sentiments exactly.
Franny Osman February 17, 2012 at 04:08 PM
I am skimming this discussion on and off and glad we live in a place and time where we can have it.
Jeff Barry February 18, 2012 at 01:44 AM
>> 1.Being a member of a group or related to another group does not >> make you an automatic authority, But being a member of a group (or not) does not automatically invalidate my observations regarding that group. >> How you feel is just that, a personal feeling. That is not "proof" of >> your position. I reported my observations accurately. I have drawn conclusions based on my observations. I don't need proof to present those conclusions. >> 2. In our 50 (now 100) thread discussion. Actually it's 59 including this post. I had my computer count the names of the people who posted. The top scorers are: 21 Allen Nitschelm 8 Michael Krol 8 Jeff Barry (including this post) Thought you'd want to know. >> Many well-meaning members of society would use "shame" to >> discourage this type of behavior. If someone stands up for their rights >> (in this case, the right to sue) and members of the public disagree, >> they will attempt to publicly humiliate them. (Talk about bullying!) We still have a Constitutional right to state our opinions on matters affecting us whether or not others dislike what we have to say. How is that bullying? If some adult might feel shamed for their actions we are supposed to not address their actions so their feelings aren't hurt?! As I've said all along: This matter should be handled openly by lawmakers with full public input and not left to lawyers and judges.
Thomas J. Dyer February 18, 2012 at 01:45 AM
Alan in all seriousness if Mills were to indicate that all schools would do this 2x this would be a great compromise and could squelch increase cost to a silly lawsuit, legal though it may to file it is silly to go after a school district it is the wrong defendant.
Michael February 18, 2012 at 04:17 AM
Allen, I was trying to provide a solution with an idea of allowing students to opt-in with saying "under God" if that is what they believe. Clearly you disagree with them exercising their first amendment of free speech now. Remember, as of now no one is forcing anyone to utter the word "God" or even say the pledge for that matter. It is purely voluntary. Under your scenario, those words would be forbidden even if people wanted to say them despite their right to free speech. That's not forcing one's opinion on someone else? By the way, you've defended this family's right to sue on the basis of personal belief and because they felt threatened, but if you actually read the Beacon, they are one of two plaintiffs. The other is the American Humanist Association, a nonprofit incorporated in Illinois and located in Washington, D.C. So it seems it simply isn't about one family's belief, but an agenda. You seem to think that because someone speaks up against this frivolous lawsuit we are trying to pressure them into dropping it. On the contrary, it demonstrates that some people have principles, values, and convictions they feel strongly about.
Tee Lemieux February 20, 2012 at 02:13 PM
Get over yourselves! If you don't like it here then go buy an island and create your own system/way of life and live there. And by the way...don't use our money anymore either...God is on it...so don't use it to buy all the items that bring happiness into your life. As for the children....home-school them if it offends you. That's the beauty of America...."Let Freedom Ring"! They are not forced to say the allegience. They are not forced to believe in God. They are not forced to live here. We have Freedoms that people fight for! Stop your darn Belly-aching. Use your freedoms to bring up your family the way you want. We don't stop you from being an athiest....that's freedom. You are welcome to live in America...that's freedom. We don't force you....that's FREEDOM baby (Austin Powers) lol...enjoy it and stop looking for special treatment.
“In God We Trust”… Adopted as the official motto of the U.S. in 1956. On most U.S. currency since 1864 and on all U.S. currency since 1954 (Eisenhower admin) when also added to the U.S. pledge of allegiance. Reaffirmed by the U.S. Senate on its 50th anniversary in 2006. Similar language in the Star Spangled Banner. References: U.S. Treasury: http://www.treasury.gov/about/education/Pages/in-god-we-trust.aspx ; Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_God_We_Trust White House: http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2006/07/20060727-12.html Legal and religious challenges before? Many. Successful to date? No. Could change under U.S. or even State law or constitution? Sure. Arguments to do so? Of course and those against. But who’s issue is it? Acton Public Schools? Change the U.S. pledge and motto? Stop taking U.S. currency in the cafeteria and book stores? When did Acton PS get jurisdiction? Despite 30+ years of swearing to uphold the U.S. constitution (has “Lord”) and two state constitutions that guarantee freedom of speech & right to access to the courts, I just don’t get it. No reason for Acton PS to work this issue. And exercising the right of anonymity is unconscionable. Just stop. Withdraw the suit. Call or write John Kerry, Scott Brown or Niki Tsongas. Or sue the U.S. not APS. Paul Henrion for ACLI http://www.facebook.com/pages/Acton-Community-Leading-Initiatives/224227354327760
Jim Snyder-Grant November 25, 2012 at 02:03 PM
The Acton pledge case is about to get to the MA supreme court. Overview article here: http://www.sentinelandenterprise.com/local/ci_22025460/sjc-hear-pledge-allegiance-case

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