Massachusetts high court agrees to hear Pledge of Allegiance case

Image: Massachusetts high court agrees to hear Pledge of Allegiance case

For Immediate Release:  October 26, 2012
Media Contact: Emily Hardman, 202.349.7224, ehardman@becketfund.org

Washington, D.C. — Today Massachusetts’ highest court agreed to hear a case that will decide the fate of the Pledge of Allegiance in Massachusetts public schools. The decision comes in a constitutional challenge to the Pledge brought by a secularist group and defended by schoolchildren represented by The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty who seek to maintain the Pledge. After receiving briefing on the important constitutional issues and the broad implications for Massachusetts schools that the case raises, the Supreme Judicial Court agreed to hear the case without waiting for a decision from the intermediate Court of Appeals. Oral argument is expected to be early next year.

The case was filed by secularist group American Humanist Association and local atheists, who filed suit last year in Middlesex County Superior Court seeking to have the words ‘under God’ declared unconstitutional and to prohibit recitation of the Pledge in Massachusetts public schools. Local schoolchildren who want to continue saying the Pledge intervened in the lawsuit, joining the Acton-Boxborough school district to defend the words “under God.” The schoolchildren and their parents Daniel and Ingrid Joyce, along with the fraternal organization 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.

In a March ruling, Judge Jane Haggerty of the Middlesex County Superior Court held that the Pledge is constitutional. Judge Haggerty agreed with the Becket Fund that the Pledge is not a religious statement. It is, instead, a statement of our nation’s political philosophy that rights come not from the state but from something higher than government—what our Declaration of Independence called “Nature’s God.” Judge Haggerty called the Pledge “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,” said Diana Verm, Counsel at the Becket Fund. “We are confident that the Supreme Judicial Court will uphold the Pledge just like every other court that has decided this question,” added Verm.

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, LLP in Boston.

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 18-year history of defending religious liberty for people of all faiths—from Anglicans to Zoroastrians. Its attorneys are recognized as experts in the field of church-state law. 

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:

Pledge of Allegiance Case Page

Judge Haggerty’s Opinion (March 2012)