An atheist couple in Acton, Massachusetts, are suing a local school district and claiming that the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance with the words “under God” discriminates against their children. The parents, who wish to remain anonymous, are identified only as John and Jane Doe. They have three children in the Acton-Boxborough school system — one in high school and two others in middle school.
In Middlesex Superior Court on Monday, David Niosie, the family’s lawyer asked that the words be taken out of the expression of loyalty to America. According to the attorney, the term “under God” forces the children to engage in an activity that “defines patriotism according to a particular religious belief.”
“Every day these kids go to school and the pledge is recited declaring that the nation is in fact under God,” Niosie went on to tell a FOX25 reporter. “That marginalizes them and suggests that people who don’t believe in God are less patriotic.”
The school district, though, argues that the pledge is constitutional and that it is voluntary, thus the children are not being forced to participate. Dr. Stephen Mills, superintendent of the Acton-Boxborough school district, reiterated these views in commenting on the matter.
“This business that we’re marginalizing students. There’s absolutely no recrimination, no negative consequences ever against a child who chooses not to say the pledge, or in this particular case, simply say the pledge and not say the words under God,” he said.
Before even stepping foot in the courtroom on Monday, the school district had already spend $10,000 on legal fees — a sum Mills said would be better allocated to textbooks.
Interestingly, the complaint also lists the American Humanist Association (HA), a non-profit located in Washington, D.C, as a plaintiff. The group describes itself as an organization that strives “to bring about a progressive society where being good without gods is an accepted way to live life.” In a press release that The Blaze received on Tuesday, HA heralded the case, writing:
Yesterday afternoon the American Humanist Association argued in Massachusetts Superior Court that the state’s constitutional equal rights amendment should bar the practice of public schools conducting a daily flag-salute exercise that utilizes the version of the Pledge of Allegiance that includes the phrase “under God.”
This case, Jane Doe, et. als. v. Acton-Boxborough Regional School District et al, is particularly unique and important because the state’s constitutional equal protection guarantees are the basis of the suit, not the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment. This same strategy could be replicated in other jurisdictions.
The words “under God” were added to the Pledge by Congress in 1954 under then President Dwight D. Eisenhower. They were included as a response to Communism and the Cold War.
The judge has not indicated when a decision on the matter would be made, although it should be noted that atheists have previously lost this same battle in other parts of the country.