Massachusetts family suing over “One nation under god”.

A Massachusetts family is suing the state over the inclusion of “Under God” in the pledge of allegiance.  The case has made it up to the state supreme court.  The family, who has elected to keep their name anonymous (because Christians full of love for the sinner, both adult and student, have shown a strange eagerness to make the plaintiff’s life hell in similar cases), has some strong backers.

Listed in the court docket as having filed briefs so far are: the Acton School System, John Doe (the atheist family that filed the lawsuit and wishes to remain anonymous), American Humanist Association, Daniel and Ingrid Joyce, the Knights of Columbus, the Alliance Defending Freedom and the Massachusetts Family Institute.

Glad to see the AHA getting in on this action.  In describing the reason for the suit, Roy Speckardt nails it:

Fitchburg attorney David Noise, president of the American Humanist Association, who represents the family, referred comment to AHA Executive Director Roy Speckhardt.

In a statement, Speckhardt wrote: “By tying patriotism to God-belief, public schools not only cast a cloud of suspicion over atheists and humanists, but they also make it impossible for atheist-humanist children to meaningfully participate in the daily exercise of the Pledge of Allegiance.”

And here come the counterarguments.

Mills said in his affidavit in response to the lawsuit that “for both students and teachers, participation in the Pledge of Allegiance is totally voluntary.” Abstaining from the Pledge can be done for no reason, without explanation and without any form of recrimination or sanction, he said.

A student cannot abstain from the pledge without penalty.  By drawing attention to themselves, they make themselves the target for malicious behavior from the other students.  Students should not be put in a position where the option is often to conform with something they don’t believe or to expose themselves to poor treatment from their peers.

And what’s more, the state cannot even suggest that somebody should take part in a religious practice.  Inviting the students to acknowledge god’s existence via the pledge is unfair and, frankly, should be illegal.  Insert the word “Allah” for “god” and even Christians would find the “They can abstain” argument to be ridiculous.

Mills added that the Pledge of Allegiance “serves the compelling educational and societal interest of promoting among our youth patriotism, virtue and national loyalty.”

Even if I conceded that patriotism and national loyalty were virtues or had anything to do with education (I don’t), would the pledge still accomplish those things without the two words that manage only to exclude non-believers?  Yes?  Awesome.  Problem solved.

Attorney Geoffrey Bok, representing the school district, declined to comment on the pending case. In his court brief, Bok wrote that if the SJC limits the Pledge, “It would establish an unprecedented right of any student or their parent to block public school teachings that are offensive to their religious beliefs, even if the alleged offensive teachings are made totally voluntary.”

Wrong.  Teachers can teach about religion, but they cannot suggest that a student acknowledge god’s existence.  That is what schools which say the prayer currently do.  If you think encouraging kids to say we are one nation under god is on the same field as students who refuse to learn biology because of Jesus, you are being intentionally dense, even if you’re doing it because Jesus wants you to rationalize really hard.  Having students say we are one nation under god is not educational.  It is religious.  Period.

Last June, Middlesex Superior Court Judge Jane Haggerty issued a 24-page opinion in which she sided with the school district. She ruled that the daily recitation of the Pledge with those words does not violate the plaintiffs’ rights under the Massachusetts Constitution, does not violate the school district’s antidiscrimination policy and does not violate state law.

Haggerty wrote that the Pledge is a patriotic exercise, not a prayer. The judge ruled that the phrase “under God” is not a religious truth.

Haggerty noted that the plaintiffs, who admit that the children had the right to refuse to participate in the Pledge, asserted that the phrase “under God” is a “religious truth that serves as a daily affirmation that their core religious beliefs are wrong.”

In what universe is the phrase “One nation under god” not a religious affirmation?  Christ, religion is amazing at making people either stupid or dishonest, because those are the only two explanations for that argument.

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About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.


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