The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled on May 9 that the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance does not violate the non-religious beliefs and equal rights of atheists, affirming that students in schools across the state are free to recite the Pledge or refrain from doing so, based on their personal convictions.
The American Humanist Association filed a lawsuit in 2010 on behalf of an atheist couple with three children who were supposedly offended by the phrase, and who feared their children would be labeled unpatriotic because they refused to utter the words that have become associated with the Pledge since being added in 1954. In response to the challenge, a number of state parent groups, pro-family and Christian organizations, along with the Knights of Columbus stepped forward to defend the Pledge, joining with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which argued the case before the state high court.
Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Roderick Ireland noted that reciting the Pledge of Allegiance is a voluntary observance, and if a student wishes he or she can refrain from reciting any or all of the Pledge, including the words “under God.”
“The daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance does not violate Article 1 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights,” the state constitutional provision that guarantees equal rights, wrote Ireland in the courts' decision to reject the lawsuit. He noted that students “are free, for any reason or for no reason at all, to recite it in its entirety, not recite it at all, or recite or decline to recite any part of it they choose, without fear of punishment.”
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