- (Photo: AP Images / Paul Sakuma)
There's a new challenge to the Pledge of Allegiance from atheists, who want it banned in schools across Massachusetts because it contains the phrase "under God." However, an attorney who is defending it says he is confident it will remain unchanged.
Attorney Eric Rassbach, the deputy counsel of the Washington, D.C.-based Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, is representing a family in the Acton-Boxborough Regional School District that wants their child to say the pledge as it is every day as the school begins.
"Nobody has to say the words 'under God,' or the pledge at all," NBC News quotes him as saying. "That's an extremely important thing that most people don't realize. You can't compel people to say the pledge, and if someone was compelled to say the pledge, I'd be on the other side of the case."
David Niose, former president of the American Humanist Association, is representing another family in suburban Boston that wants the two words removed.
Niose opened his arguments last week in the case Doe v. Acton-Boxborough at the John Adams Courthouse in Boston, saying the use of "under God" in the pledge violates the Equal Rights Amendment of the Massachusetts Constitution and amount to discrimination. "It validates believers as good patriots and it invalidates atheists as non-believers at best and unpatriotic at worst," Niose was quoted as saying.
Roy Speckhardt, executive director for the American Humanist Association, told The Christian Post earlier that the focus of the lawsuit on this issue contrasts with previous suits filed. "Instead of focusing on the pledge as being a violation of the First Amendment guarantee of no government establishment of religion, we are primarily arguing that the pledge violates our right to equal protection under the law."
The phrase was added to the pledge during the Cold War era as an explicitly anti-atheist statement to distinguish the U.S. from atheist Russia, Speckhardt claimed.
However, Rassbach noted that he argued last Wednesday that most people do not view reciting the pledge as saying a prayer. "It would be terrible to enshrine in the law this kind of allergy to God that the plaintiffs have."
The pledge was published in 1892, and Congress passed a joint resolution to insert the phrase "Under God" in 1954 with the approval of President Dwight Eisenhower. However, it has faced challenges since before the insertion of the phrase. "These words will remind Americans that despite our great physical strength we must remain humble," Eisenhower wrote at the time. "They will help us to keep constantly in our minds and hearts the spiritual and moral principles which alone give dignity to man, and upon which our way of life is founded."
"A distinction must be made between the existence of a religion as an institution and a belief in the sovereignty of God," the bill's sponsors said at the time. "The phrase 'under God' recognizes only the guidance of God in our national affairs."
A decision in the case is likely within six months.