Pledge of Allegiance challenged again

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.


  1. dickspringer says

    Anyone here old enough to remember the presidential election of 1988? Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis had as governor of Massachusetts vetoed a bill requiring all students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in school. Of course, the bill was unconstitutional. But Republican candidate George H. W. Bush, exhibiting typical Bush family integrity, shamelessly used the veto against Dukakis throughout his campaign. Republicans closed their convention with a recitation of the Pledge and it was a regular feature of their campaign rallies.

    A lot of other things were also done to impugn Dukakis’s patriotism, which was made easier because of his non-Anglo-Saxon name (like Barack Hussein Obama).

  2. kevinkirkpatrick says

    I hate pretty much everything about our current pledge – “under god” is just the icing on the cake. I don’t pledge loyalty to symbols themselves; symbols ought to be symbolic of said loyalties. I’d only pledge allegiance to my country to the extent that my country adhered to principles worthy of said allegiance. “Indivisible” is about the least accurate description I could conceive of in describing our country. I’ve tried to rack my brain for a pledge that I actually could endorse. The best I’ve come up with was:

    I pledge allegiance to the principle for which my country stands: that all people have the inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

    Of course, I’m not much of a wordsmith, but *that* seems like the kind of pledge all US citizens might voluntarily stand and say with pride (the idea of making a pledge in support of liberty mandatory, would of course be ridiculous).

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