Getting God Out of Little League

Bob Ritter is a civil rights attorney for the American Humanist Association. Outside that organization, though, he’s working on a project of his own: Getting references to God removed from Little League baseball.

He’s doing this locally, in his town of Falls Church, Virginia.

Ritter, an assistant coach on a league team and whose son, Vincent, is a first-year player, was present for the opening ceremonies held at Westgate Park in Falls Church last April.

During the event, Ritter said a Methodist preacher was invited to the field for a religious invocation, and the children then recited the “Little League Pledge,” which contained the phrase, “I trust in God.”

While he recognizes the league is privately owned, Ritter said the league “is a secular organization” and the presence of religion “interferes with the ability to teach your child” and fails to recognize “Falls Church’s religiously diverse community.”

“Falls Church has a broad religious community of Catholics, Buddhists, Jews and Muslims,” he said. “Everyone doesn’t have the same idea of God, or believes in God.” Ritter identifies himself as an atheist.

Ritter added, “I wouldn’t want someone to give an invocation saying there is no God. I just want the Little League to treat my son by the Golden Rule, to treat him as they would want to be treated.”

Like the Boy Scouts of America, Little League is a private organization, so a lawsuit wouldn’t work unless there was blatant funding from the government.

But no doubt God is present at games across the country.

Here’s the Little League Pledge:

I trust in God
I love my country
And will respect its laws
I will play fair
And strive to win
But win or lose
I will always do my best

This issue rarely gets as much traction as Boy Scout cases — you don’t hear about Little League coaches getting kicked out from their volunteer positions for being atheists — but it’s just as frustrating.

I wonder if other atheists have had to deal with this issue. Did you or your kids have to say the Pledge?

  • bronwynm

    I have to attend municipal meetings in the Chicago suburbs and there are many City Council and Village Board meetings that start with the Pledge of Allegiance. This is my job, so it’s not like I can make a scene by refusing to stand up or say it!

    Taking an oath before testifying in public hearings before these bodies is also a big deal to me since many court reporters still use “so help me God” at the end. The “so help me God” is actually an IL statutory requirement of the oath! I could request to make an affirmation instead, but the language is totally different so it would really single me out.

  • Jeff Satterley

    I played little league baseball for 10+ years as a kid, and I never even knew there was a Little League pledge.

  • Miko

    I say we get rid of the third line too.

  • wall0645

    Yeah I played little league for many years and we didn’t have such a pledge.

    Or any pledge, for that matter.

  • TXatheist

    Yeah, this atheist finally took the responsibility that no xian had and became the t-ball and soccer coach for my kid’s team. The first year the pledge wasn’t done and the next year I just stood there and didn’t follow but walked around while they recited it.

  • TXatheist

    It was the YMCA which is the only 4 year old program in our area.

  • Ryan

    I played little league baseball and have never heard of this pledge. However, this brings me to something that I will absolutely stand behind: when you join an established organization you play by their rules. That does not mean you agree with their rules. If you don’t agree with their beliefs and what they stand for then you have every right to start your own little league (although that would be difficult).

    One thing I can’t stand and don’t understand is why everyone feels the need to get people to conform to what they themselves believe. I just don’t get it. I know you’re not trying to get the pledge to say “and there is no god” but you’re attempting to remove references about god. I don’t agree with it but it’s a private organization! No one is forcing you join and participate.

    Do as you must, but if it bothers you that much then don’t say it. Someone forcing you to do something would make for a much better argument.

  • Aubrie

    You should hear the Boys and Girls Club code:
    I believe in God and the right to worship

    According to my own faith and religion.

    I believe in America and the American

    Way of life, the Constitution

    And Bill of Rights.

    I believe in fair play, honesty,

    And sportsmanship.

    I believe in my Boys and Girls club,

    Which stands for these things.

  • The Unbrainwashed

    Falls Church has a broad religious community of Catholics, Buddhists, Jews and Muslims

    Don’t all these religious groups believe in God? Why would they object to saying, “I trust in God”? Is this person just trying to rile up support amongst non-Christians by telling them they should be annoyed when they have little right to be?

    I see the only reasonable objection coming from atheists.

  • Brian Westley

    Like the Boy Scouts of America, Little League is a private organization, so a lawsuit wouldn’t work unless there was blatant funding from the government.

    No, there was a lawsuit back in 1972 to let girls into Little League, and the courts ruled that LL was a public accommodation and had to admit girls.

    Being a public accommodation means they can’t discriminate against atheists, either.

    To their credit, they state that nobody has to recite the pledge and their volunteer forms state that they will not discriminate on the basis of creed.

  • Matt D

    I live in Australia, which is seemingly a far more secular society than the US.

    I dont see anywhere near the number of God references that you guys do. Not on our currency, not in a national motto, not on public buildings, no God-laced pledges at junior sports.

    In fact i need to go looking for reasons to be offended as an atheist! However I did hear our Prime Minister say his prayers are with the families of vitims in the recent Jakarta bombing. And our National Parliament opens every day with a reading of the Lord’s Prayer.

    I think it is worth making some noise over each and every issue. It’s about building a ground-swell of awareness. Elected officials will only force change on these issues when they beliee there’s votes in it.

  • cltdba

    I dont see anywhere near the number of God references that you guys do. Not on our currency, not in a national motto, not on public buildings, no God-laced pledges at junior sports.

    Ahh, I knew there were more reasons I liked Australia! :P

  • Heidi

    You should hear the Boys and Girls Club code:

    When did all these organizations get religious codes and mottoes? Is this new, or did they just ignore this stuff in the past?

    Don’t all these religious groups believe in God?

    Buddhists don’t. Buddha is not technically a god.

    I live in Australia, which is seemingly a far more secular society than the US.

    Not a difficult accomplishment, but I am jealous nonetheless.

  • gribblethemunchkin

    What i find almost as creepy as the god bothering line is the patriotism line.

    I guess thats something we don’t really do in the UK and it hence always sounds kinda odd when i hear others doing so.

    Mind you, i suppose the pledge to the monarch in the UK scouts is much the same.
    I think it goes something like

    “On My Honour, I promise that I will do my best
    To do my duty to God and to the Queen,
    To help other people
    And to keep the Scout Law”

    Mmmmm, patriotism and religion, my two favourite thinking disorders in one sentence.

  • Michael

    The Boy Scouts of America Scout Oath is:

    On my honor, I will do my best
    To do my duty
    To God and my country
    And to obey the Scout Law
    To help other people at all times
    And to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.

    In almost all recitations of the Oath, you immediately proceed into the Scout Law:
    A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.

    Don’t ask why I know all that.

    For anyone who’s interested, Fortin v. Darlington Little League, Inc., 514 F.2d 344 (1st Cir. 1975) appears to be the highest court case that ruled that girls can play Little League. However, they didn’t rule that Darlington Little League was a public accommodation, just that, because it relied on public facilities (baseball fields owned by the City of Pawtucket, Rhode Island), it had a duty not to discriminate on the basis of sex. More to the point though, Congress amended the federal charter of the Little League Baseball “to allow girls to participate on an equal basis with boys” in 1974. H.R. Rep. No. 93-1409 at 1 (1974); Pub. L. No. 93-551, 88 Stat. 1744 (1974). I’m not entirely clear why this didn’t moot the entire Fortin case because the plaintiff was only seeking declaratory and injunctive relief which was granted by, uh, Congress.

    A lawsuit might actually work in this case if there’s excessive entanglement between the Little League and the government like there was in Fortin. I’m not a lawyer, and I’m not an expert in this area of the law, so I can’t say. (I just conduct legal analysis for fun.) But it may not be a completely lost cause.

  • JoAnne Getty

    Just back from our very first Little League opening day – I was horrified when this ‘Oath’ was whipped out. When will we transcend ourselves and finally accept that not everyone adheres to the same dogmatic religious system, not everyones spirituality is tied to god.

    Shoving a belief in god on anyone, especially our children is inauthentic and immature; and frankly, I think it also disrespects those who do follow a god tradition.

    Can’t we just leave this dishonorable treatment of each other to the bigoted Boys Scouts, they do it so well after all.

  • Mike

    The kids only see the LL pledge when they play post season (All-Stars) in our state.  That may explain why some former players aren’t aware of it.  I just told my son that he didn’t need to repeat that particular line in the pledge or could just replace the word ‘god’ with ‘science’.  We had a good laugh about it (we’re a secular family).

  • Derek Barth

    Little League makes it clear that no one is required to recite the pledge.  Anyone “horrified” to see a simple reference to God might want to find a country full of atheists so nobody will horrify them.   Or…they could happily live in the real world and accept the way things are.

  • mom left coast

    corvallis OR, first game in 4 years some coach insisted every single player remove hat and pledge. I don’t want my son coerced to say “i love my country” — that’s coerced political speech prohibited by supreme court — i wonder why atheists are okay forcing children to say the patriotic oath — when they don’t know what they believe. weird.

  • Hifi1

    Not standing up doesn’t make a scene. It’s the person who gets offended by it who makes the scene. I know it’s uncomfortable. But if my elementary school kids can sit while everyone stands for the Pledge EVERY day, I think you should be able to tough it out, too.

    We need more people sitting the Pledge out in protest; otherwise, it looks like everyone always supports it.