The issue of whether the words ‘under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance made it unconstitutional to say at state-sponsored events seemed to have been settled in 2010 when several US Courts of Appeals ruled that since no federal law required people to recite the pledge, no violation of the US constitution occurred. Since there was no divergence in the various appeals court rulings, it was unlikely to be heard by the US Supreme Court and the issue seemed no longer contestable.
But it turns out that the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has agreed to hear a challenge from an atheist couple that the recitation of the pledge in public schools violates the state constitution’s equal protections clause. Interestingly, it is this same clause that same-sex marriage advocates successfully used to establish the right to marriage in Massachusetts, making it in 2003 the first state to allow the practice, triggering a snowball effect across the nation. The court is hearing arguments today.
There is an ‘opt-out clause’ that allows students to not say it. But Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association that is bringing the suit on behalf of the plaintiffs, says that it still imposes an undue burden on them. “The opt-out itself is exclusionary and unpleasant. Children are left with a bad choice: either stand up and recite something against your beliefs, or opt out and be ostracized.”
The family suing has chosen to remain anonymous. It is disturbing that even in a state like Massachusetts in the year 2013, people still have to fear possible retaliation for expressing disbelief in a god and opposing pressure to engage in acts of public piety, like what the courageous Vashti McCollum and her family faced in 1948 when they successfully challenged the practice of providing religious instruction in public schools. The US Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in a landmark decision that this violated the Establishment Clause.