Doe v. Acton-Boxborough Regional School District

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Friday, May 09, 2014

Description:  Atheist parents and students filed suit in the Massachusetts courts to stop recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools--even though no student is required to recite it--because the atheist students claimed to be “offended” by simply hearing the words “under God.”

Mass. high court upholds recitation of Pledge in public schools

Alliance Defending Freedom, Mass. Family Institute filed joint friend-of-the-court brief in favor of Pledge
Friday, May 09, 2014

Attorney sound bites:  Andrew Beckwith  |  Jeremy Tedesco

BOSTON — The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled Friday that reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools does not violate the commonwealth’s constitution or laws.

Atheist parents and students sought to stop recitation of the Pledge--even though no student is required to recite it--because the atheist students claimed to be “offended” by simply hearing the words “under God.” Alliance Defending Freedom and Massachusetts Family Institute filed a joint friend-of-the-court brief in the case, and the Acton-Boxborough Regional School District expressly incorporated most of the brief’s arguments into its defense of the law that makes the Pledge part of public school practice within the commonwealth.

“The Pledge of Allegiance shouldn’t be banned merely because someone who is not even required to recite it feels offended,” said Massachusetts Family Institute President Andrew Beckwith, one of more than 2,300 attorneys allied with ADF. “The Pledge unites Americans. The court did the right thing in refusing to divide Americans by silencing a voluntary exercise of patriotism just because a few people didn’t like it.”

“Simply being offended by something does not make it a violation of the Massachusetts Constitution,” explained ADF Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco. “As we argued in our brief and as the Supreme Judicial Court found, the recitation is completely voluntary, and listening to the words ‘under God’ does not violate anyone’s constitutional freedoms.”

The lower court ruled in favor of the school district and concluded that the phrase “under God” in the Pledge serves as a clear “acknowledgment of the Founding Fathers political philosophy, and the historical and religious traditions of the United States.” The atheist parents and students then appealed the decision.

The Supreme Judicial Court heard oral arguments in Doe v. Acton-Boxborough Regional School District in September of last year. In its ruling today the court wrote, “We hold that the recitation of the pledge, which is entirely voluntary, violates neither the Constitution nor the statute [which prohibits discrimination in Massachusetts public school education]….”

“Although the words ‘under God’ undeniably have a religious tinge, courts that have considered the history of the pledge and the presence of those words have consistently concluded that the pledge, notwithstanding its reference to God, is a fundamentally patriotic exercise, not a religious one…,” the court concluded. “The fact that a school or other public entity operates a voluntary program or offers an activity that offends the religious beliefs of one or more individuals, and leaves them feeling ‘stigmatized’ or ‘excluded’ as a result, does not mean that the program or activity necessarily violates equal protection principles.”
Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
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Additional resources: Doe v. Acton-Boxborough Regional School District

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Friday, May 09, 2014

Previous news releases:

  • 2013-09-03: Atheists not required to recite Pledge seek to stop it anyway

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