Massachusetts court rejects challenge to ‘Under God’ in Pledge of Allegiance

Image: Massachusetts court rejects challenge to ‘Under God’ in Pledge of Allegiance

Becket Fund secures words for fourth time

For Immediate Release: June 11, 2012
Media Contact: Emily Hardman, ehardman@becketfund.org, 202.349.7224

WASHINGTON, DC — Yet another challenge to the Pledge of Allegiance foundered Friday when Middlesex Superior Court Judge Jane Haggerty held that Massachusetts schoolchildren may continue to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in full each morning. The Pledge of Allegiance is being challenged in a lawsuit by the hypersecularist group American Humanist Association,  which asked Judge Haggerty to declare the words ‘under God’ unconstitutional and to prohibit recitation of the Pledge in Massachusetts schools. Local Massachusetts schoolchildren who wanted to continue reciting the Pledge in their public school classrooms intervened in the lawsuit to defend their right to continuing saying the traditional Pledge. The schoolchildren, their parents Daniel and Ingrid Joyce, and the Knights of Columbus, are represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a non-profit law firm that has defended the Pledge for almost a decade.

“This is a great victory for everyone who believes that human rights come not from the whim of the government, but from a higher power, which is what the Pledge proclaims,” said Diana Verm, Legal Counsel at the Becket Fund.

Citing previous decisions from the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco and the First Circuit in Boston, Judge Haggerty upheld the words “under God,” emphasizing that the Pledge of Allegiance is not a religious exercise, but “a voluntary patriotic exercise” that “teach[es] American history and civics.” Judge Haggerty also pointed out that no schoolchild can be required to recite the Pledge.

“Members of the American Humanist Association have the right to remain silent if they want to, but they don’t have the right to silence everyone else,” added Verm.

In rejecting the American Humanist Association’s equal protection argument, Judge Haggerty ruled that mere disagreement does not mean discrimination: Schools do not have to shield students from viewpoints with which their parents may disagree.

“In upholding the words ‘under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance, the court has kept faith with the foundational concept of this country – ‘that we are endowed by [our] Creator with certain unalienable rights,’” said Supreme Knight Carl Anderson of the Knights of Columbus.

This is the fourth of a series of major lawsuits that have attempted to remove the words “under God” from the Pledge. The Becket Fund has thus far successfully defended all four. Acting as co-counsel on the case is J. Patrick Kennedy, of Bulkley, Richardson and Gelinas, LLP in Boston.

The plaintiffs may appeal Judge Haggerty’s decision to the Supreme Judicial Court, Massachusetts’ highest court.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty  is a non-profit, public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions. The Becket Fund has a 17-year history of defending religious liberty for people of all faiths. Its attorneys are recognized as experts in the field of church-state law, and they recently won a 9-0 victory against the federal government at the U.S. Supreme Court in Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC. The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is the first and leading law firm to legally challenge the Administration’s HHS mandate.  

For more information, or to arrange an interview with one of the attorneys, please contact Emily Hardman, Communications Director, at ehardman@becketfund.org or call 202.349.7224.

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Additional Information:

Becket Fund’s Case Page

Judge Haggerty’s Opinion

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