A Massachusetts judge has ruled against an atheist couple who sued the school district where their children go to school, seeking to have the words “under God” struck from the Pledge of Allegiance, which is voluntarily recited by students in the district. The couple, who were represented by the American Humanist Association (AHA), argued that the God-affirming phrase amounts to a “religious truth” that violates their own atheist non-belief. But Middlesex County Superior Court Judge S. Jane Haggerty disagreed with the couple, ruling that the phrase is not religious, but is instead meant to “inculcate patriotism” and to “instill a recognition of the blessings conferred by orderly government under the constitutions of the state and nation.”
The anonymous couple, who had three children attending Acton Public Schools and the Acton-Boxborough Regional School District, filed the suit in February with the help of the AHA, which promised to appeal the ruling. “No child should go to school every day, from kindergarten to grade twelve, to be faced with an exercise that defines patriotism according to religious belief,” complained AHA president David Niose, following the ruling. “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.”
Niose argued that having children recite the Pledge is nothing less than religious indoctrination. “The flag-salute is how we define patriotism for children on a daily basis,” he said. “When we define patriotism with a religious truth claim — that the nation is in fact under a god — we define nonbelievers as less patriotic.”
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