A lawyer for a group of self-described atheist and humanist families argued before the highest court of Massachusetts last week that a state law requiring public schools to lead daily recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance violates the state constitution.
A family identified as the Does, with three school-age children, challenged the state law requiring the pledge in schools because of the inclusion of the words “under God.”
The children have not been required to recite the pledge themselves, in keeping with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1943 decision in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette. But the family argues in their legal brief that schools conduct a patriotic exercise that “exalts and validates” one religious view while marginalizing their “religious views” on atheism and humanism.
The Does, joined by the American Humanist Association, are challenging the Massachusetts law under the state constitution’s equal-protection guarantee, not as a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition on any government establishment of religion or its guarantee of free exercise of religion.
In the Doe case, a Massachusetts trial court held that school recitations of the pledge do not violate the rights of the atheist and humanist children under the state’s Equal Rights Amendment.
Members of the state high court asked questions during the arguments, which lasted 36 minutes.
A version of this article appeared in the September 11, 2013 edition of Education Week as Massachusetts High Court Weighs ‘Pledge’ in Schools