December 2012 Church & State | AU Bulletin

Massachusetts’ Supreme Judicial Court has agreed to hear the appeal of a non-religious family that objects to mandatory daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in their children’s classrooms.

According to Religion News Service, the family, who are secular humanists, claim that the phrase “under God” in the Pledge is a violation of the state’s constitutional ban on religious discrimination. (Students may opt out of the exercise, but critics say that just makes dissenting pupils seem like outcasts and unpatriotic.)

In June, a lower court ruled against the family, saying the Pledge recitation was not discriminatory because it did not uphold one religion over another. The family appealed, and will now gain a hearing from the state’s highest court.

The suit seeks protection under the state constitution’s equal protection measure, not under the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of the separation of church and state.

“There is very little case law that precedes this,” said Bill Burgess, director of the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center, which is representing the plaintiffs. “The court will be making new law when it issues its decision.”

Massachusetts has a history of leading the vanguard in discrimination cases. In 2003, the same court ruled that it was discriminatory, and therefore unconstitutional, to prohibit gay marriage, becoming the first state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

“The gay marriage decision is a signpost for what the court might do here,” Burgess said. “It is a similar principle and the court has shown the courage in the past to do something ahead of its field, and we are hoping for a similar result here.”

The appeal in the case, Doe v. Acton-Boxborough Regional School District, has not yet been scheduled.