(RNS) The highest court in Massachusetts upheld the legality of the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance on Friday (May 9), dealing a blow to atheist groups who challenged the pledge on anti-discrimination grounds.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court said the daily, teacher-led recitation of the pledge in state public schools does not violate the state’s equal rights amendment and is not discriminatory against the children of atheists, humanists and other nontheists.

Andrew Hall, an atheist and father, demonstrates Wednesday outside the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. He says recitation of the pledge of allegiance in schools should be deemed unconstitutional in Massachusetts. Photo by G. Jeffrey MacDonald

Andrew Hall, an atheist and father, demonstrates on Sept. 4, 2013 outside the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. He says recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in schools should be deemed unconstitutional in Massachusetts. Photo by G. Jeffrey MacDonald


This image is available for Web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

“Participation is entirely voluntary,” the court wrote as a whole in the decision of Doe v. Acton-Boxborough Regional School District, brought by an anonymous humanist family. “(A)ll students are presented with the same options; and one student’s choice not to participate because of a religiously held belief is, as both a practical and a legal matter, indistinguishable from another’s choice to abstain for a wholly different, more mundane, and constitutionally insignificant reason.”

The ruling marks the second legal loss for atheists this week. On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that sectarian prayers given before government meetings were not a violation of the First Amendment’s guarantee of separation of church and state.

Secular activists were quick to condemn the ruling.

“This would have been a groundbreaking case for atheists and humanists, but the Court’s decision today simply reaffirms the status quo,” said Edwina Rogers, executive director of Secular Coalition for America, an umbrella organization of atheist, humanist and other secular groups. “Today’s decision tells our children that love for our country must be linked to a god belief, and that in and of itself is discriminatory.”

The loss is also a setback for a new legal strategy that secular groups employed after a string of challenges to the “under God” phrase. Here, they argued that “under God” violated the state constitution’s guarantee against discrimination rather than the U.S. Constitution’s promise of separation of church and state.

David Niose, president of the American Humanists Association, greets supporters after arguing against the Pledge of Allegiance at the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. Photo by G. Jeffrey MacDonald

David Niose, president of the American Humanists Association, greets supporters on Sept. 4, 2013 after arguing against the Pledge of Allegiance at the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. Photo by G. Jeffrey MacDonald


This image is available for Web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

Since the addition of the phrase “under God” in 1954, the pledge has faced repeated challenges. In 2004, one case reached the Supreme Court, but ultimately failed, as have all previous challenges.

“We are very disappointed by the court’s ruling,” said the plaintiffs’ attorney David Niose, legal director for the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center. “No child should go to public school every day, from kindergarten to grade 12, and be faced with an exercise that portrays his or her religious group as less patriotic.”

The American Humanist Association has a similar case pending in New Jersey. In a statement issued after the ruling, officials there said they would continue to wage discrimination cases under other state constitutions.

KRE/AMB END WINSTON

26 Comments

  1. As an adult I can omit the phrase “under God” in solidarity with my friends who are non-theists; but, I can see where that would be very confusing for children. Omitting the phrase makes me no less a theist, no less a pastor, and no less a Christian. I cannot understand why people feel the need to defend to the death a phrase that isn’t part of the original text anyway … saying “under God” doesn’t mean diddly when we refuse to care for the poor and stranger in our midst [as we are commanded in the Judeo-Christian Scriptures by the by] … Just this pastor’s $0.02 …

  2. I have to agree with the court’s decision, not because I am necessarily wedded to the phrase “under God” in the pledge, but because I fail to see how the inclusion of the phrase is a direct violation of rights or represents discrimination against anyone, especially since the recital of the pledge is a voluntary exercise. One question I have is whether the attempt to remove the phrase actually represents an assertion of rights or is it a veiled attempt to remove the voice of faith and religious belief from the public square. If this is the case, then there will certainly be more judicial confrontations in the future.

    • Because it doesn’t discriminate against YOU it is okay!?

      Does the word ‘pledge’ mean anything?
      If so, you are asking non believers to make empty statements about their flag and the nation.

      Instead of skipping the “God” part you are really telling us to skip this part:
      “I pledge allegiance”

      We all lose when we mix God garbage with democracy.
      I cannot pledge allegiance to a country which forces me to believe in God.

      • If, as the court noticed, “Participation is entirely voluntary,” then why is there a problem, Max?

        One kid repeats the Pledge correctly (“under God”), the next kid doesn’t repeat the Pledge at all. Nobody’s penalized or proselytized, either way. Each kid’s (and parent’s) freedoms are respected.

        Surely there’s nothing wrong with that.

        • Because people who want to interject God’s name into public proceedings are always the most reasonable types, right?

          Oh wait, no they aren’t
          http://www.takepart.com/article/2013/04/11/pledge-allegiance-schools-student-berated-not-participating-maryland

          http://www.khou.com/news/local/Boy-punished-at-school-for-refusing-to-stand-for-Pledge-of-Allegiance-258402211.html

          http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2009/11/17/high-schooler-gets-in-trouble-after-not-standing-for-the-pledge-of-allegiance/

          Doc, you are full of crap. There are plenty of teachers and schools which ignore the “voluntary” aspect of the pledge. All these court rulings do is enable such people to act like uncivil jerks.

  3. If “Under Allah” sounds like Sharia
    What does “Under God” sound like?

    Warning:
    Athiests, Agnostics, freethinkers, Secularists wake up.
    American is the ONLY COUNTRY on earth that has a separation of church and state and it has served both Government and Religion very well.

    The Wall of separation is being attacked by religionists on yet another front and if you don’t speak up
    to your neighbor and your friends and let them know
    that you are ATHEIST – A BELIEVER – you will not be allowed
    to be an Athiest for much longer.

    They are coming for us.

    • If there is a separation of church and state in this country, why do so many religions here get involved in politics, even running for office? A relative of mine was admonished by her church to vote for one party (Republican), although another choice was made. I would think those who claim to be religious would remain “neutral” when it comes to “state” or “politics”. I have been neutral my entire life.

  4. I choose not to say the pledge at all and keep my arms down at my side because I pledge my allegiance to God and his kingdom or heavenly government as the only hope for mankind. As Psalms 146:3 says: “Do not put your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help.” God and his kingdom will soon make everything right on earth for all nations, and there will be no more wickedness, hate, prejudice, war, sickness/disease, old age and death Psalm 37:10,11; Isaiah 11:1-9; Isaiah 2:4; Revelation 21:1-4).

    • Great. So your solution to making the world a better place is to do absolutely nothing and wait it out?

      Even 3000 years after the Psalm was written you still take solace in the notion that you can sit back and let others be responsible instead.

      Excuse me if I’m unimpressed with that philosophy of life.
      Religion is breathtakingly immoral.

      • No, I show love to my fellowman, take care of my family, obey man’s laws as long as they do not contradict God’s laws and guidelines, pay my taxes, as Jesus mentioned, to “pay back to Caesar’s things to Caesar and God’s things to God” (Mark 12:-17). I put my trust in God and his Kingdom since I “do not put my trust in nobles nor in the son of earthling man to whom no salvation belongs.” We have had all kinds of governments through the centuries all over the earth, and they still cannot solve their problems. The US government is a good example with its enormous amount of debt as well as many young men who have lost their lives in war, which will continue as times go. As Proverbs 29:2 says: “When anyone wicked bears rule, the people sigh.” This is a worldwide problem. Some of them have “good intentions” but once they get into office,there is infighting (such as Democrats with Republicans) and power struggles, and special interests. Many governments want to gain absolute control over others. Jeremiah 10:23 says “It does not belong to man who is walking even to direct his step.” If people cannot direct their steps, doing everything on their own, how can they direct an entire nation? My hope and trust will always be with God and his Kingdom. Looking at man’s governments today and how they rule only confirms that. There are still millions of people who still vote and support their government and politics; I just won’t be in that group, although I show respect to superior authorities. If the government does not agree with me and my beliefs and tries to make me vote or go against God, they can go ahead and put me in jail, and I will stand up for what is right. And I do agree with you, that “false” religion is terribly immoral.

        • In other words, feel good about yourself and do nothing to change the situation. My guess is such things don’t really offend your sensibilities anyway.

          • No, I am doing something that is very important, positive and necessary: Sharing the good news of God’s kingdom as the only hope for mankind. People need to know what the grand future holds as promised by God. The political systems of this world are like a symbolic Titanic that has struck the proverbial iceberg… It’s only a matter of time before it sinks down to destruction along with the many who went down with it or couldn’t get on a lifeboat. My lifeboat is my close relationship with God, as well as my faith and trust in him. As Daniel 2:44 brings out: “And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.” This was the same kingdom Jesus preached and taught about while he was on earth. My support will stay with the winning party and not the losing, doomed one. One more literal point about the Titanic: Those who lost their lives that fateful day have the hope of being resurrected back to life on earth, through the winning party; the losing party could never ever accomplish that (John 5:28,29; Acts 24:15 ). You (and everyone else ) have the free will to make a choice as to which party you want.

        • @Fran,

          Your response is vey confused.

          You said, “Many governments want to gain absolute control over others.”

          Yes, this is called Totalitarianism which is always THEOCRATIC. So..if you want free government where the people solve their problems – keep religion out of government! Religious countries like Iran and Pakistan are rotten examples of problem solving!

          “governments …still cannot solve their problems”

          Well GOSH!…What do you expect if everyone is just sitting around waiting for Jesus to do it?

          Yet – look at countries which have eradicated religion from most of life and government and you see flourishing, happy societies:
          Finland

          Denmark
          
Estonia

          Sweden

          Norway

          The Netherlands
          Holland

          Scandinavia

          Luxembourg


          Lesson:
          abandon religion. That alone solves a lot of problems.

          • Religion is not the only cause of oppression. Look at China and North Korea. Both proclaimed atheist countries. The problem with atheists trying to take Christianity out of our country is that they are doing this while trying to implement atheism, which is a religion with a faith in no God, but a faith nonetheless. When you look at the problems that atheists most often address, they don’t have a reason besides what regards themself. There is no “big picture view” used by atheists. Atheism views are selfish and they only want rights to suit themselves. When you look at Christian reasoning, there is plenty more reason behind their logic than atheists, those who claim reason to be their guide, ever use. It seems to me that atheists should take a few classes on empathy.

          • What you call, “taking Christianity out of the country”, really amounts to keeping it out of our laws, where they never belonged.

            A better description is that atheists in the US are looking to support the Constitution as intended. Not attacking or diluting the separation of church and state hardwired into our system.

            “Atheism views are selfish and they only want rights to suit themselves.”

            That is actually a better description of Fundamentalist Christian views, like your own. They see themselves as the only religious belief which should matter under our laws and see religious freedom as a purely self-serving idea. There is nothing selfish about trying to keep our government in a position where it does not engage in sanctioned sectarian discrimination. In fact such stances frequently get support from various other religious sources as well. Pretty much anyone who is likely to be on the receiving end of Christian based discrimination.

            You also feel the need to lie as well. “Christian reasoning” employs spurious, frequently self-serving and usually dishonest arguments. Much like what you do. Anyone who uses the term “reasoning” when attacking critical thinking and rational thought should be more familiar with the term “irony”.

            Looking at China and North Korea one sees what happens when you replace religion with something equally irrational. Worship of the state. Just a re-jiggered form of Fundamentalism. China and North Korea are not much different from Iran, Saudi Arabia, Nazi Germany or Francoist Spain (the last theocratic government in Europe)

          • @Hunter,

            1. North Korea is the most religious country on earth. Please. It is run by a man who claims to be a deity with miraculous powers and a theocratic iron fist on the population which must worship him constantly. That is not Atheism!

            2. I am not trying to stop Christianity. I am trying to stop Christianity from over-reaching and destroying secular laws and replacing science with Creationism in the public schools – and I am on the losing side of this so far. This will lead to the dark ages.

            3. Atheists did not ask to be non-believers. It is not fair to pick on us the way Christians do – and we are losing that battle too.

            4. ATHEISTS ARE NOT selfish:

            This is another incorrect claim of religion – that “God gives us morality”.
            But a much better case could be made that religion is a cause of immorality.

            95% of the members of the National Academy of Sciences are Atheists.

            That is about 3,000 people.
 Why are they not raping and stealing?

            55% of the doctors working for Doctors Without Borders are Atheists (22,000 members worldwide working for free every day)
 – Why are they not enslaving people and murdering?

            100% of American Association of Atheists (50,000) has the lowest crime statistics of any group in the other segment of society. Why are they not in jail?

            If morality comes from Jesus, God or Allah,
            one would expect these Atheists to be stealing, raping, murdering and deeply unwelcome everywhere. Instead, these are the most stable, peaceful, productive, generous individuals in society.

            Billionaires who happen to be Atheists
            are among the most generous people in our society:
            Warren Buffett
            
Bill Gates

            Jeff Bezos
            
Carl Icahn

            Meanwhile, The religious Christian and Muslim billionaires are power mad:
            The Koch Brothers

            Rupert Murdoch
            The House of Saud

            Why do the Christian billionaires act so immorally?

            Atheists are almost never arrested.

            Their numbers in prison are so small that it is statistically zero. (pew)

            Atheists almost never end up in jail.


            Atheists (or non-believers) make up at least 5% of the American population.

            But they cause none of the crime.
            Less than .05% of the prison population is Atheist.


            The huge majority in prison
            are Christian, Muslim and
 other religions; To whom shall we credit their immorality if not religion?

            Atheists are not only good without god, they are statistically the best behaving members of society.
Norway, Japan, Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand are simultaneously the most peaceful, successful
 and most Atheistic countries in the world.

            Meanwhile, where Christianity is strong 
you find dramatic inequality of wealth:

            Latin America, North America,
            High tolerance for fascism
 (Italy, Greece, Spain, Texas)
            High of repression of women’s rights (Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Texas)
And high use of the Death penalty.

            And before you rebut my argument by bringing up the usual suspects: Pol Pot, Hitler, Hirohito, Stalin and Kim il sun – be aware that I will point with conclusive proof that these straw men had supernatural beliefs and convictions. They are not examples of atheism.

            Atheists are NOT SELFISH and the proof is everywhere.

          • The only true theocracy, as described in Webster’s New World Dictionary is: “The rule of a state by God or a god; government by a person or persons claiming to rule with divine authority.” This cannot apply to man’s governments since they are not God, nor do they rule with divine authority which would be through God or his son, Jesus, the King of God’s kingdom. Man’s governments make their own laws and documents, such as the Constitution of the United States, Bill of Rights, etc. Romans 13:1 says: “Let every soul be subject to the higher powers. For there is no power but if God; the powers that be are ordained by God.” Therefore, God has allowed man to rule over man with a multitude of different types of governments. However, their time left standing is short. And can any of those governments get rid of all wickedness, hate, prejudice, poverty, old age and death??? NO!! Bible prophecy shows that we are living in the last days of an era (2 Timothy 3:1-5; Matthew 24:3-14). The people in the “flourishing and happy” countries will still grow old and die and may possibly experience a terrible earthquake such as the one recently in Japan. Matthew 24:7 says: “For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there shall be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.” All of these things are a sign that the end of this violent era is near..I totally agree with you that religion should keep out of government and that’s one reason I don’t vote or get involved in politics. But many, many, many religious people do it, and I can’t understand why. None of man’s governments are a theocracy and I choose to be a theocrat, supporting God’s rule over man’s rule.

    • @FRANK,
      It is fun for you because your Christian Sect is in the majority – today.
      But your grandchildren may reap the consequences of these pro-religous Court decisions as other Christian sects rise with money and power and push your version of Christianity out.

      And SCOTUS gives you no option but to be a billionaire (Citizen’s United) to push back on that kind of Christianity! They will force it on your children. Your protection from that is gone.

      The Wall of Separation between Church and State was created when Christians asked Thomas Jefferson for PROTECTION — FROM OTHER CHRISTIANS!!!!!!!

      That this argument must even happen is a disgrace to our country and the lousy education you got in high school and from your NAIVE CLERGY!

      • This minister has to agree with Atheist Max. Here’s an example of what happens when some who call themselves “Christians” find themselves on the other side of the equation. Disgraceful.
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dG4SVj19W1w

        • @Rev. Gray,

          You are exactly correct.
          Separation of Church and State protects both.

          Sadly, the United States was, until last week, the only country with genuine separation. It is over – and Frank will regret it.

  5. This whole line of comments seems to be polemics between Theists and Atheists.

    NOT SO!! Many of us religiously-minded folk are disturbed that other religiously-minded folk want to put God in all phases of our nation’s expressed pledges, mottoes, and documents, often as add-ons, and expressions of changes in our (and others’) culture. The separation of religion and government has been a cherished and supportive factor in our success as a democratic entity for the whole period of our existence.

    I would settle for our nation to become a theocracy – - – but only if I get to be the Theocrat-in-charge. I wouldn’t trust anybody else with the job.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comments with many links may be automatically held for moderation.