Moral Low Ground

Civil Liberties

Massachusetts Judge Jane Haggerty Affirms “Under God” in Pledge of Allegiance

A Massachusetts judge has ruled against a humanist family who claimed their rights were being violated by the inclusion of the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag.

The Boston Globe reports that Middlesex Superior Court Judge Jane Haggerty ruled against an unnamed atheist couple and their children who took exception to the “under God” portion of the Pledge.

In Jane Doe, et. als. v. Acton-Boxborough Regional School District et al (click here to read the ruling), the plaintiffs argued that the assertion that the nation is “under God” violates state nondiscrimination law. It was a departure from the usual First Amendment Establishment Clause argument, and it did not succeed.

In her Friday ruling, Judge Haggerty declared that the inclusion of “under God” in a voluntary patriotic exercise does not “convert the exercise into a prayer.”

David Niose, the plaintiffs’ attorney and president of the American Humanist Association, said the group plans to appeal the decision.

“No child should go to school every day, from kindergarten to grade twelve, to be faced with an exercise that defines patriotism according to religious belief,” said Niose. “If conducting a daily classroom exercise that marginalizes one religious group while exalting another does not violate basic principles of equal rights and nondiscrimination, then I don’t know what does.”

Niose said that he is not challenging the federal statute that added “under God” to the Pledge during a “Red scare” period in 1954 as a reaction to godless communism. But states, he said, have a right and a duty to protect religious minorities that he believes are marginalized by the exclusionary language of the Pledge.

“If the federal government decides to write a discriminatory Pledge, the Massachusetts Constitution nevertheless protects children in the Commonwealth from the discrimination that would occur from daily recitation of the Pledge in classrooms,” he said.

Niose said that the Pledge is also a form of discriminatory religious indoctrination.

“The flag-salute is how we define patriotism for children on a daily basis. When we define patriotism with a religious truth claim—that the nation is in fact under a god—we define nonbelievers as less patriotic.”

In March 2010, the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Pledge did not violate First Amendment prohibitions against favoring one religion over another.


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