(Photo: AP Images / Paul Sakuma)
Massachusetts' highest court will consider a suit against a state school district by an atheist family who protests the usage of "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance.
The Massachusetts Supreme Court recently announced that it would hear arguments against Acton-Boxboro Regional School District regarding usage of the phrase "under God" in the Pledge in early May. One of the plaintiffs in the case is the American Humanist Association, with its legal arm the Appignani Humanist Legal Center helping to bring the suit forward.
Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the AHA, told The Christian Post that this case will be "markedly different" from past failed efforts to get "under God" taken out of the Pledge. "Instead of arguing that 'under God' in the pledge is a violation of the rule of church-state separation, it is explained as a specific infringement on the right of nontheists to equal protection under the law," said Speckhardt.
"At the federal level, that's citing the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause instead of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause, and such federal prohibitions exist at the state level as well."
In February 2012, an unidentified atheist family sued the Acton-Boxboro Regional School District and its superintendent Stephen Mills.
David Niose, president of AHA and an attorney, said in a statement that the "daily recitation in public schools of a pledge declaring that the nation is 'under God' is discriminatory toward atheists and humanists."
"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 Niose.
Last June, Middlesex County, Mass., Superior Court Judge S. Jane Haggerty ruled in favor of the School District and against the atheists in a 24-page opinion.
"The Pledge is a voluntary patriotic exercise, and the inclusion of the phrase 'under God' does not convert the exercise into a prayer," wrote Haggerty.
"As recently as 2002, Congress reaffirmed the terms of the Pledge…making 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."
In a statement, Superintendent Mills said that "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."
Aiding the effort to keep "under God" in the Pledge was The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represented Defendant-Intervenors the Joyce family, whose children are students in the Acton-Boxborough School District.
Eric Rassbach of The Becket Fund told The Christian Post that "disagreement does not mean discrimination."
"Everyone is being treated equally, which is all the law demands. Every child can choose whether to say the Pledge or not, in accordance with his or her conscience," said Rassbach.
Acton-Boxboro Regional School District of Massachusetts did not return comment to The Christian Post by press time.