“Under God” in Massachusetts will soon not be a thing if the state court concedes to the efforts of one atheist family to have the words removed from the Pledge of Allegiance.
It all started in early 2012, when two atheist parents tried to get the phrase removed from the pledge at Acton Boxborough Regional School District. The judge ultimately ruled in favor of the district, finding nothing unconstitutional about the Pledge as-is.
But the “under God” in Massachusetts fight is now going to the state’s Supreme Judicial Court for an appeal. Though numerous attempts to have the phrase tossed out of the Pledge in the past have failed, this case actually has a unique shot. Instead of appealing to the U.S. Constitution, plaintiffs will actually argue that the words violate the state constitution.
This could work because, as noted by Religion News Service’s Kimberly Winston, this is more or less the same strategy used by gay rights activists a decade ago. In 2003, Massachusetts became the first state to recognize gay marriages.
“This is the first time a legal challenge to government use of ‘under God’ is based on the equal protection rights in a state constitution instead of the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment,” the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center, which is assisting the unnamed atheist family, said in a statement.
The family’s lawyer called the Pledge a violation of personal rights when the case was initially dismissed, reports The Blaze.
“No child should go to school every day, from kindergarten to grade 12, to be faced with an exercise that defines patriotism according to religious belief,” David Niosie said.
“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.”
The inclusion of “under God” in the Pledge has long been a controversial issue. Supporters of preserving the current language cite religious freedom, while critics take the opposite view: That the phrasing is actually leaves out Americans who do not believe in God (or believe in something else).
The words “under God,” in Massachusetts or anywhere else, were added to the pledge in the late 1940s.