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.

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.

  • Art Vandelay

    Even outside of the blatant illegality of “Under God,” I don’t even like making children pledge their allegiance to a flag. I don’t think they should pledge their allegiance to anything. That sounds like some imperialistic bullshit and it’s fabulously divisive. How about we all see ourselves as human beings as a starting point and then take it from there?

  • John Eberhard

    ” promoting among our youth patriotism, virtue and national loyalty” Or, as real Americans perceive, “indoctrinated nationalism”, which Orwell defined as “the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognising no other duty than that of advancing its interests.”

    • Kodie

      In place of political awareness and activity, in place of finding things to be proud to be an American for, for some reason the day starts with a recitation of a solemn promise. What is weird is that you don’t have to mean it to say it thousands of times, under scrutiny and threat of bullying, but if you do mean it, there’s no reason to ever say it more than once. Wouldn’t it be nice if they cared if anyone really meant it, and worked out instead how they were going to fulfill it for the rest of the academic schedule?

  • Mike

    When I was in high school I refused to recite the pledge for this exact reason. The teacher attempted to force me and when I refused I was sent to the principal’s office. I had to spend home room in the principal’s office the rest of the year so I wouldn’t fight with the teacher. It was the only compromise we could work out. And they say there’s no penalty to not stating it? I my case, I was lucky and nothing really happened. But I can see how it could have.

  • Loqi

    In what universe is the phrase “One nation under god” not a religious affirmation?

    In the same one that Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a philosophy. The Fox Newsiverse.

  • Ken

    The only way “In God We Trust” and “under God” has been upheld in higher courts is by arguing the phrase has lost its religious meaning, becoming a secular exclamation. Like screaming “Oh God!” in a moment of passion, or muttering “Jesus Fucking Christ!” when stubbing your toe.

    In other words, it’s supposedly legal only by officially having the government take the Lord’s name in vain.

    This is the hypocrisy of that argument. If it were at all honest, no True Christian would defend it.

  • iknklast

    When my son was in high school, his school had a “voluntary” pledge every day. He refused to say it. His history teacher took offense, told him that he was refusing to respect the country, God, and veterans (of which his teacher was one), and told him that, although he couldn’t make my son say the pledge, he didn’t have to do anything at all to help my son in his efforts to pass history. Which is, of course, untrue, since that is exactly his job as a history teacher. The other kids also didn’t like him not saying the pledge, and he was subjected to considerable bullying. There is no such thing as a “voluntary” activity that is done publicly in a school and follows the wishes of the majority.

    In related news, in my current state (Nebraska), one of our state legislators is challenging a recent law requiring that schools allow time to be available to say the pledge – or something like that. The exact wording is a bit strange, and is designed to try to pass constitutional muster because they can say they aren’t requiring the saying of the pledge. Our openly agnostic legislator, Ernie Chambers, who once sued God to get an injunction because of his constant threats against the people of Nebraska, has challenged the law. I don’t expect his challenge to succeed.

    • Nate Frein

      I suspect his challenge will be a treat to watch, however.

  • Bob Jase

    Christian theocrats should try to re-institute the Bellamy salute – its about right for their mindset.

    • Andrew Kohler

      I just looked up the Bellamy salute–wow. Does pointing out that this looks almost exactly like the Nazi salute count as Godwin’s Law? It doesn’t seem to me like a simple observation should be so classified. (And I don’t think that I’m only making this connection because I’m spending much of my time this week in an archive looking at documents from the Reichskulturkammer.)

      I found an article about the history of the Pledge here which has made me rather displeased:

      A nice (by which I mean awful) quotation from Bellamy himself (the author of the Pledge who, of course, was not the one to put in “under God”): “A democracy like ours cannot afford to throw itself open to the world where every man is a lawmaker, every dull-witted or fanatical immigrant admitted to our citizenship is a bane to the commonwealth; where all classes of society merge insensibly into one another.”

      • Nate Frein

        The Bellamy salute predates the dictatorships. I wouldn’t say Bellamy was a Nazi, and I wouldn’t say his pledge or salute were fascist. However, I do think it falls well inside the rule that when bad people are agreeing with you, you might want to reevaluate what you’re saying. Even at it’s inception, the pledge displayed the kind of hypernationalism that sets the stage for dictators like Hitler.

  • Griffox

    I have seen more arguments today against same-sex marriage that consist solely of, “We are one nation under GOD!!!” It is clear that having these words in our pledge is divisive and the fact that children grow up reciting this everyday has led to a whole population of people who believe that it somehow proves that we are a Christian Nation.

  • baal

    The “under god” part was added to the pledge as part of the anti-communist red scare back in the middle of the last century. While the words are clearly christian, they also served as a signifier as belonging to a group that hates communists. I never found the later sufficient to mark the weight of the former but particularly since the communist threat has turned out to be a figment (and was back then too), the ‘secular’ purpose of the religious part of the pledge is farging looney.

  • BKsea

    The stupidest thing about the pledge is that every young kid I have ever heard starts off:

    “I pledge OF allegiance to the flag…”

    That shows they don’t even have any idea what the pledge means.