Massachusetts Supreme Court Rules “Under God” in Pledge of Allegiance doesn’t Discriminate against Atheists because Reciting it is Voluntary

Monday, May 12, 2014

Massachusetts’ highest court on Friday rejected the challenge of an atheist couple who claimed their three children would be socially marginalized or treated differently because they didn’t say the Pledge of Allegiance in class because it includes the phrase “under God.” The court said the couple, who remain anonymous, failed to show that their children had been treated any differently because they didn’t say the pledge.


“There is no evidence…that the Doe children have ever been subjected to any type of punishment, bullying, or other mistreatment, criticism, condemnation, or ostracism as a result of not participating in the pledge or not reciting the words ‘under God,’ ” Chief Justice Roderick Ireland wrote in a unanimous decision in the case of Doe v. Acton-Boxborough Regional School District.


The couple, through the American Humanist Association and its lawyer, David Niose, argued that the inclusion of the phrase discriminated against their religious beliefs that neither God nor gods exist.


In a statement posted on the nonprofit organization’s website, Niose said he was “very disappointed’’ by the decision, adding that the pledge is not harmless, but a means of indoctrinating children into theist beliefs, according to the Boston Globe.


“The flag salute is how we define patriotism for children on a daily basis,” Niose said. “No child should go to public school every day, from kindergarten to Grade 12, and be faced with an exercise that portrays his or her religious group as less patriotic.’’


Federal courts have held since the 1943 case of West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, that saying the Pledge or saluting the flag cannot be made mandatory. Ireland wrote for the Massachusetts court “the choice to engage in the recitation in the Pledge and the choice not to do so are entirely voluntary. The reasons pupils choose not to participate are not themselves obvious. There are a wide variety of reasons why students may choose not to recite the Pledge, including many reasons that do not rest on either religious or anti-religious belief.”

-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

‘Under God’ in Pledge of Allegiance Is Constitutional, Says Massachusetts’s Highest Court (by Eugene Volokh, Washington Post)

‘Under God’ Will Remain In Pledge, Mass. SJC Rules (by John R. Ellement, Boston Globe)

Is Refusing to Stand for the Pledge of Allegiance “Disorderly Conduct”? (by David Wallechinsky and Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Federal Court Rules “In God We Trust” and “Under God” are Not Religious Expressions (by David Wallechinsky and Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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