BOSTON — The highest court in Massachusetts has heard arguments in a case challenging the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in the state’s public schools because it includes the phrase “under God.”
Last year, a state judge found that the rights of an atheist couple and their children were not violated when the words “under God” are included in the pledge in Acton schools.
Middlesex Superior Court Judge S. Jane Haggerty ruled that there was no violation of state law or the school’s anti-discrimination policy. The judge found that including the words “under God” in a voluntary patriotic exercise doesn’t “convert the exercise into a prayer.”
The family appealed Haggerty’s ruling, and the Supreme Judicial Court heard arguments Wednesday.
The American Humanist Association is representing the couple. Its director, Roy Spekhardt, says their challenge is an issue of fairness.
“It’s really unfair for people who don’t believe in God,” he told WBUR. “It really makes second-class citizens out of nontheists and that shouldn’t be the job of the state.”
Defending the pledge is the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. Diana Verm, a fund lawyer, says that removing the reference to God would be discriminatory.
“It’s problematic because it displays a hostility towards religion,” she told WBUR. “It’s saying we don’t want anything that even smells like religion in our schools. Then it starts discriminating against religious people.”
With reporting by The Associated Press and the WBUR Newsroom