The Supreme Court in Massachusetts has agreed to hear the latest legal challenge to reciting the Pledge of Allegiance's "under God" phrase in public schools.
But this lawsuit brought by an atheist couple and their children against Acton-Boxborough Regional School District says the recitation of the pledge violates the state's Equal Rights Amendment. Past legal challenges, which have all failed, have been under the First Amendment.
“There is almost no case law defining religious discrimination under the Equal Rights Amendment. In fact, there’s really none,” David Niose, the family’s attorney and president of the Humanist Association, told the Boston Globe. “It’s high time that this type of discrimination be adjudicated.”
But an attorney with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing a family and the Knights of Columbus that intervened in the case, said a challenge under the state statute won't change the outcome.
“We are confident that the Supreme Judicial Court will uphold the pledge just like every other court that has decided this question,” Diana Verm told the Religious News Service.
Niose is appealing a ruling in June by Middlesex Superior Court Judge Jane Haggerty who upheld the words “under God,” emphasizing that the Pledge of Allegiance is not a religious exercise, but “a voluntary patriotic exercise” that “teach[es] American history and civics.” Haggerty also pointed out that no schoolchild can be required to recite the pledge, according to the Becket Fund.
But Niose claims opting out of saying the pledge doesn't prevent religious discrimination. “It's hardly a consolation that they get to sit down and watch while their class conducts this disparaging exercise,” he told the Globe.
Even though the school district and other defendants had prevailed, they didn't object to the appeal that was granted Friday.
“This is an important case because it has to do with whether people with really different world views can live together in the country without trying to sue to silence the other one,” Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel for the Becket Fund, told the Globe.