On September 4, the Supreme Court of Massachusetts will hear a case in which the right of schools to recite the Pledge of Allegiance has been challenged.
The suit was brought by an anonymous atheist couple, backed by the American Humanist Association, because the pledge includes the phrase “under God.” The suit claims that the phrase is a violation of students’ rights.
This is not the first time that the phrase, which was added in 1954, has been fought in court; there have been repeated attempts, with one reaching the U.S. Supreme Court in 2004. All the suits against the phrase have failed.
What distinguishes this suit, Doe v. Acton-Boxborough Regional School District, from the others is that it does not challenge the phrase under federal law but instead claims that the phrase is a violation of Massachusetts’ equal rights laws. The plaintiffs state that the daily use of the pledge in schools violates the students’ guarantee of equal protection under those laws.
This new tactic regarding the Pledge of Allegiance was used successfully in 2003 in a lawsuit a same-sex couple filed to allow gay marriage. Their victory in the state’s Supreme Court catalyzed other similar suits in other states.
Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing the defendants, said if the plaintiffs win, “You would then see a rash of state court lawsuits challenging the pledge all over the country. 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.”
“There is disagreement, but there is not discrimination,” he added. “That is what is at the heart of this disagreement about what the government should do.”
The case before the Court is an appeal of a ruling in 2012 that found for the defendant.