Massachusetts Supreme Court hears oral arguments in suit challenging recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance under the state constitution

NBC News reports that Massachusetts’ highest court has heard arguments from the parties in a suit alleging that the Pledge of Allegiance’s phrase “under God” violates the state constitution’s Equal Rights Amendment. Rather than challenging the Pledge on the basis that the phrase violates the constitutional principle of separation of church and state, the anonymous plaintiffs, represented by the American Humanist Association (AHA), the Pledge’s use of “under God” violates the Equal Rights Amendment of the Massachusetts Constitution and is an issue of discrimination.

David Niose, former president of AHA, argued that the Pledge’s repetitiveness in the public school system is indoctrinating and alienating to atheists. “It validates believers as good patriots and it invalidates atheists as non-believers at best and unpatriotic at worst,” he said.

Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, whose organization has intervened in support of the defendant, Boxborough Regional School District, said, “Most people do not view reciting the Pledge of Allegiance as saying a prayer.” He added, “It would be terrible to enshrine in the law this kind of allergy to God that the plaintiffs have.”

Rassbach also pointed out that it has been illegal to force someone recite the Pledge since 1943. The landmark U.S. Supreme Court case West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette ruled that students could not be forced to salute the American flag or say the Pledge in school.

Rassbach expressed concern that if the state supreme court rules in favor of the plaintiffs, the case would spur copycat lawsuits in other states with similar equal rights’ laws. “If they succeed in their goals here,” he said, “they will attempt to replicate it elsewhere.”

Source: NBC News, 9/4/13, By Sophia Rosenbaum

[Editor's Note: In March 2013, Legal Clips summarized an article in Lowellsun.com reporting that in February 2013, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) solicited the submission of amicus (friend of the court) briefs from those who have a strong interest in, or views on, the subject of the constitutionality of the Pledge of Allegiance in schools, but are not a party in the lawsuit. In asking for amicus briefs in the case of John Doe vs. Acton-Boxboro Regional School District & Others, the Court described the case as identifying “important issues of state constitutional and statutory law concerning the daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.” In addition to the parties’ briefs, the American Humanist Association (AHA), the Knights of Columbus, the Alliance Defending Freedom, and the Massachusetts Family Institute have submitted briefs.]

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