A Middlesex County, Mass., Superior Court judge ruled on Friday against a married couple attempting to have the words "under God" removed from the Pledge of Allegiance because the phrase is discriminatory against atheists and humanists.
Judge S. Jane Haggerty disagreed with the couple's claim, saying in her decision that the phrase is designed to "inculcate patriotism" and to "instill a recognition of the blessings conferred by orderly government under the constitutions of the state and nation."
The couple, identified only as John and Jane Doe in the lawsuit, has three children who attend Acton Public Schools and the Acton-Boxborough Regional School District. They filed the lawsuit against the school district back in February. They are now set to appeal against Haggerty's 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," said David Niose, the family's attorney and President of the American Humanist Association, according to CBS Connecticut. "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."
Judge Haggerty explained in her opinion, however, that the "under God" phrase is not about promoting one religion over another, but about strengthening patriotism, the Boston Globe reported.
"The Pledge is a voluntary patriotic exercise, and the inclusion of the phrase 'under God' does not convert the exercise into a prayer," she wrote in her 24-page opinion.
Judge Haggerty noted that as recently as 2002, Congress reaffirmed the terms of the Pledge of Allegiance, and made "findings that support the conclusion that including the phrase 'under God' did not transform the Pledge into a religious exercise but rather was intended to reflect the history and political philosophy of the United States."
"The court upheld the school district's longstanding practice of leading children in the Pledge of Allegiance, which is also required under our state law,'' added Stephen E. Mills, superintendent of the Acton-Boxborough regional and Acton public school systems
"The school districts have maintained throughout this lawsuit that we have not engaged in unlawful discrimination against its students, specifically with respect to their religious beliefs as was alleged in this case,'' said Mills, who was also a defendant in the case.
After the decision, Niose tried to argue that the Massachusetts Constitution is also obligated to "protect children" against a "discriminatory pledge," and called the daily recitation of the Pledge a form of "indoctrination."
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which in 2011 intervened in the case on behalf of Daniel and Ingrid Joyce, the parents of two students from the same school district who wanted to preserve the Pledge of Allegiance, previously stated that it was important to remember that there are still many people who value the Pledge deeply and don't want it to be edited.
"We intervened in the lawsuit because we wanted our clients' voices to be heard, that there are people who value the Pledge and its political meaning and they want to continue saying it," Diana Verm, legal counsel for the Becket Fund, said in February.