“Under God” Under Fire

Oral arguments from yesterday’s hearing in the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court have been posted on the the Suffolk University Law School website.

The Appignani Humanist Legal Center is representing anonymous parents and students in Massachusetts public schools in an attempt to stop the pledge from being recited daily.

I have not read the briefs in this case. It’s apparently being tried based on the Massachusetts Equal Rights Amendment, a provision not every state has. This case is important, although it is unlikely to have national implications since the law the Plaintiffs are suing under is neither a federal law nor a uniform law adopted by all the states.

I don’t know who the Justice is who asked the questions of the school district’s attorney beginning at 18:59, but I love her. “It’s hard for a six-year-old to opt out [of saying the pledge],” she pointed out.

Then, when the attorney said that the historical context of the founding of the nation had to be considered, she asked, “Suppose it said instead, ‘one nation led by white men’? … Historically that would have been accurate.” The counsel for the school districts admitted that would be problematic. If the Court strikes the pledge, this may be the telling moment.

Another Justice  asked the school district’s attorney, “How would a six-year-old or an eight-year old know they could opt out [of saying the pledge] if they had not read [relevant case law]“? Excellent question, your honor, especially since, if they were told so only at the first day of class, they would be unlikely to remember that.

Later, when the Intervenors’ attorney was speaking, a Justice asked, “How does a young school child understand that “under god” means [not literally a god, but] that our fundamental rights are derived from something higher than the state – and that the state cannot compromise those rights?” I thought it was extremely telling that the attorney said “I’m sure the pledge just seems like one long word to them.”

If the pledge is meaningless, why do we bother having children say it?

Look for an opinion in upcoming months.


Got a legal question? Email me at anne@aramink.com. I’m a lawyer, but there’s only a 2% chance I’m licensed in your state. Whether I answer your question or not, sending me an email or reading this blog post does not create an attorney-client relationship between us. I’m on Twitter as @aramink, and you can see my regular blog at www.aramink.com.

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Got a legal question related to religion? Contact me at anne@aramink.com

  • Criamon
    • unbound55

      Amazing results overwhelming in favor of removing “under god” from the pledge. However, considering the number of votes listed (1.7 million at this time), I do wonder if a script is hitting the site.

      • Ken Duncan

        Reddit happened.

  • baal

    Kudos to those judges for asking the right questions.

  • iknklast

    I said the pledge in school every day. I had no idea what I was saying for a number of years. It’s just memorized mumble to most kids, and words like allegiance are the sort of words you just sort of stumble over to get through it. When I realized what the pledge meant, I quit saying it, though I couldn’t opt out. Even if that WAS an option in my school (I don’t know) it wasn’t in my family. So I stood, put my hand somewhere roughly in the location of my heart, and mouthed the words, somehow thinking if I didn’t say them out loud, it didn’t count. What a farce, and a humiliating farce for a child.

  • Lux (Elly) Pickel

    “I’m sure the pledge just seems like one long word to them.”

    Dude, are you fucking kidding? That’s one of the most incredibly condescending things I’ve heard someone say about young children. Believe it or not, many of them understand what they’re saying. Not necessarily when they first enter school, but kids start to really process language pretty early on.

    Perhaps she’s a standout, but my seven-year-old sister is quite sensitive to nuance in meaning and the implications of different wording/tone/context. Little kids are not dumb. Can we please stop talking about them like they are?

    • Jasper

      There’s a difference between analyzing it, and reciting it. Most don’t analyze it.

  • Daniel Moran

    I was a Jehovah’s Witness growing up. I was told by my dad to opt-out of the pledge numerous times, and I did for as long as I can remember. We viewed it as idolatry, because it was essentially worship of something that was not God.
    When I became an atheist, I still refused to do it. I didn’t view it as idolatry, but instead as a church/state separation issue, as well the implicit message that I didn’t belong in America.

  • Daniel Moran

    Also, if it weren’t for Jehovah’s Witnesses, it is possible that schoolchildren would not have the ability to opt-out of saying the Pledge of Allegiance.

  • David Charles Richards

    The “Under God” bit only inserted by rabid Xtians in the 50s – it has no historic basis.