The state’s highest court today heard an atheist couple’s argument that the words “under God” should be struck from “the Pledge of Allegiance” in Massachusetts public schools because, they contend, the two words exclude their three children from declaring their patriotism.
“This case presents an unpopular and wrongly vilified minority facing discrimination” by a state “promoting and propagating the idea that good patriots are God believers,” said plaintiff’s lawyer David Niose, representing the “Doe” family in their suit against the Acton-Boxboro School District.
Geoffrey Bok, attorney for the school district, told the justices of the Supreme Judicial Court that “The Pledge” is “not a prayer. It’s an affirmation. It’s a statement of our political philosophy. A voluntary provision is about as unobtrusive as you can get.”
While it is mandatory in Massachusetts that teachers lead students in the pledge every morning, participation is voluntary.
The American Humanist Association had argued in court filings that the pledge uses “wording strongly favoring one religious class while disfavoring the plaintiffs’ religious class.”
Middlesex Superior Court Judge S. Jane Haggerty rejected the lawsuit last year, ruling that “ ‘under God’ does not convert the exercise into a prayer,” that the children can choose not to say the pledge, and that the inclusion of “under God” did not violate the children’s rights. The case was then appealed to the SJC.