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
National

Miley Cyrus hospitalized, cancels Kansas concert, condition unknown,…

Singer Miley Cyrus was hospitalized on Tuesday night after suffering what is believed to be 'a severe allergic reaction' to antibiotics medication. The 21-year-old Bangerz…

News

Explosions in new Boston Marathon bomb panic, 'twisted'…

A fresh Boston Marathon terror alert, which caused Bomb Squad officers to order an evacuation while two controlled explosions were carried out, was today being…

Local

D.A. Williams opens new unit to focus exclusively…

D.A. Seth Williams announced Tuesday that he has opened a new unit focused entirely on investigating wrongful conviction claims.

Local

BSL, El to run all night on summer…

Officials announced this week that it would institute a pilot program this summer that would keep the El operational from 5 a.m. Friday morning until midnight Monday morning starting in…

Entertainment

Miley Cyrus hospitalized, cancels Kansas concert, condition unknown,…

Singer Miley Cyrus was hospitalized on Tuesday night after suffering what is believed to be 'a severe allergic reaction' to antibiotics medication. The 21-year-old Bangerz…

Television

'Orphan Black's' Jordan Gavaris talks Felix's Season 2…

Jordan Gavaris plays heroically helpful foster sibling Felix to main clone Sarah on "Orphan Black." We talked to him about what’s ahead for him in…

Going Out

Here's what to do in Philly this weekend

FILM 'Through a Lens Darkly'  Thursday, April 17, 6 p.m. Philadelphia Photo Arts Center 1400 N. American St. Free, RSVP required, 215-232-5678 www.philaphotoarts.org Join Philadelphia…

Arts

Peek behind the scenes at the Academy of…

Generations of visitors have marveled at the dioramas in the Academy of Natural Sciences, watching apprehensively at the puma perpetually poised to attack the unsuspecting…

U.S. Soccer

Andrew Wenger has big shoes to fill on…

Lancaster County native Andrew Wenger will feel pressure to fill the shoes of departer forward Jack McInerney.

NBA

NBA Power Rankings: Are the Spurs frauds? Could…

NBA Power Rankings: Are the Spurs frauds? Could the Mavericks surprise?

NBA

Sixers, Michael Carter-Williams give fans a happy ending…

The 2013-14 season for the 76ers has nearly come to a close.

NHL

Flyers must make Rangers feel their presence

Perhaps it’s the proximity of the two biggest cities in the East, because whenever these two square off the intensity seems to rise.

Home

Steal home decorating tips from Nattystyle blogger Natalie…

Despite the towering ceilings and enviable exposed brick, it’s easy to see how Natalie Decleve’s apartment could be considered a challenge. Perched above the streets…

Home

How to plant a garden in the city

Small on space but big on gardening? You can still have that welcoming oasis of fresh air with an urban garden. Peter Smith, owner of…

Style

Victoria's Secret Fashion Show moving to England

It will still broadcast on CBS this fall.

Tech

Google Glass finally goes on sale for regular…

The Google Glass finally went on sale for regular people. It only costs $1,500.