Atheists challenge Pledge of Allegiance in state’s highest court

american flag classroom
Students recite the Pledge of Allegiance every day in school.
Credit: Nicolaus Czarnecki/Metro

Saying that atheists face obvious discrimination and are a “wrongly vilified minority,” an anonymous atheist couple took their challenge of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in schools to the state’s highest court. 

Lawyers for the couple and the defendant, the Acton-Boxborough Regional School District, presented oral arguments before the Supreme Judicial Court on Wednesday morning.

The atheists, who have three children in the Acton-Boxborough school system, filed suit against the district in Middlesex Superior Court in 2010 that claimed their children’s rights under the state’s equal protection law are being violated. That challenge failed, and the atheists appealed to the SJC.

“We have a pledge where children every morning are pledging their national unity and loyalty in an indoctrinational format in a way that validates religious god belief as truly patriotic and actually invalidates atheism as second-class citizenry at best and downright unpatriotic at worst,” David Niose, a lawyer representing the couple, said during his oral argument.

While many challenges to the Pledge of Allegiance, which has contained the words “under God” since 1954, have been brought before various courts and struck down, this case challenges the daily recitation of the pledge under the state equal protection law.

When asked by the justices what the atheists were looking for, Niose said the group would like a declaration that the current practice be ruled unconstitutional.

The state has a law that requires the pledge be recited in public schools during the first class of each school day. However, a court decision in 1977 said that teachers and students cannot be disciplined for not reciting the pledge. The couple’s children have not participated in reciting the pledge, lawyers said.

But Niose said that previous court decisions stating that the recitation is voluntary does not make it all right.

“The fact that atheist, humanist children go to school everyday to watch their class conduct an exercise led by the teacher that defines patriotism a certain way that excludes them is certainly not a consolation,” Niose said.

Geoffrey Bok, a lawyer representing the school district, pointed out in his argument that the atheists filed no evidence of a student being intimidated for not participating. He also said that there is no mention of religion in the state statute.

“There is no religion bias in the statute. The only mention of religion is in the pledge itself where it does say ‘under God.’ It is not a prayer. It is not an invocation. … It’s a statement of our political philosophy,” he said.

It could be weeks or months before the SJC issues its ruling.

Follow Michael Naughton on Twitter @metrobosmike.



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

NYC pension funds valued at $160b: Scott Stringer

The five NYC pension funds that thousands of city employees contribute to saw its fifth year in a row of increased returns, up $23 billion from last year.

Local

Man dies trapped in elevator shaft at Bronx…

A man in his twenties died after being trapped in an elevator shaft of a Bronx building early Monday, police said.

International

Sierra Leone Ebola patient, recovered from family, dies…

An Ebola patient whose family sparked a nationwide hunt when they forcefully removed her from a treatment center and took her to a traditional healer has died.

Local

VIDEO: Cop reassigned as NYPD investigates alleged head…

An officer alleged to have stomped on a Brooklyn man's head last week had his gun taken away and placed on modified duty.

Music

Newport Folk Festival: Photo gallery of 35 moments…

As has been the tradition since Bob Dylan plugged in a bajillion years ago, the Newport Folk Festival embraces more musical genres than its name implies.

Music

MKTO: Behind the bromance

MKTO's Malcolm Kelley and Tony Oller talk about the American Dream tour, Demi Lovato and getting turned down by girls.

Arts

James Earl Jones and Rose Byrne head to…

Two-time Tony winner James Earl Jones returns to the New York stage next month as an eccentric grandfather in a revival of the 1930s comedy…

Movies

Box office: Scarlett Johansson wins battle of brains…

Scarlett Johansson's "Lucy" handily dispatched with Dwayne Johnson's "Hercules" over the weekend.

MLB

Yankees looking to trade for Josh Willingham: Report

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported Sunday the Yankees are interested in Twins outfielder Josh Willingham.

MLB

Joe Torre: I'm in Hall of Fame because…

Joe Torre spent 18 years putting together a near Hall of Fame career as a player. But it was the 12 years he spent as…

MLB

Yankees GM Brian Cashman breaks down art of…

The action frequently accelerates as the non-waiver trade deadline approaches, as it will on Thursday.

Auto racing

Jeff Gordon captures fifth title at Brickyard 400

Jeff Gordon captures fifth title at Brickyard 400

Wellbeing

This Week In Health: Friends share similar DNA,…

Friends share similar DNA, study finds Location: U.S. Study subjects: Nearly 2,000 people Results: When it comes to our social networks, it seems that birds of…

Education

Are liberal arts colleges turning away from the…

Bryn Mawr College, a small women's college located just outside of Philadelphia, announced last week that it would be making standardized tests like the SAT…

Education

Recent grads discover school superintendent plagiarized parts of…

  Two recent high school graduates made a surprising discovery about the commencement speech their school superintendent delivered at their graduation: portions of it was copied…

Career

Feeling stuck? Get out of the entry-level job…

Television and movies may be littered with 20-something characters who seem directionless when it comes to their careers, but author Mary Traina says she finds…