In MA, a new tactic in Pledge “under God” language challenge

poaweb3msPrevious challenges to the language “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance were based on church-state separation issues.  A new challenge, being argued before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court on behalf of anonymous atheist parents in suburban Boston, attempts to frame the issue as a violation of that state’s constitution’s Equal Rights Amendment.

“It validates believers as good patriots and it invalidates atheists as non-believers at best and unpatriotic at worst,” said David Niose, attorney for the plaintiffs, former head of the American Humanist Association, and now head of the Secular Coalition for America, according to NBC News.  Defendants, who are being defended by attorneys from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, are maintaining that the pledge is voluntary and is not an affirmation of religion, but a statement of American political philosophy.  “It’s the founding thing upon which our country was founded. Our rights did not come from the king or the tsar or the queen. They come from something higher.”  This from Becket Fund attorney Geoffrey Bok, according to HuffPo.

He is, I believe, referring to the consent of the governed, I mean a higher, supernatural power.

Niose is making a tough case to prove, since the Pledge has been held to be voluntary since 1943.  He needs to prove that there is some form of compulsion going on with saying the Pledge.  He is arguing that kids generally want to participate in patriotic actions, particularly when they are being participated in along with the rest of their peers.  Students do not always want to be exposed as different from their peers, and be in danger of ostracism or retaliation from teachers, administrators or peers.

Meanwhile, over on Fox News’ The Five, Dana Perino complained how “tired” she was of such complaints.  “If these people really don’t like it, they don’t have to live here,”  she said, sort of confirming everything that advocates of a secular pledge have been saying.


“From this day forward, the millions of our school children will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and rural school house, the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty…. In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America’s heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country’s most powerful resource, in peace or in war.” — President Dwight D. Eisenhower, on signing legislation adding the words “Under God” into the Pledge of Allegiance, June 14, 1954

Dana, its’s actually very simple.  “Under God” was not in the original language of the Pledge, and had not been for over fifty years until it was put there during the height of the McCarthy era.  If it’s not a prayer and it’s not an affirmation of religion, what is the language doing there, aside from telling kids who don’t believe that they are not as patriotic as their believing peers?  And if the language were taken away, what would the damage be, except to some believers’ sense of religious privilege?  Look at Ike’s quote at right and try to interpret his words as being anything other than a defense of establishment of religion.  Try substituting the word reason for “the Almighty” and “religious faith” in that quote, along with “intellectual” for “spiritual”.  As an atheist, I would still find that too favorable to one side.

Secondly, the mere fact that the majority of Americans identify as believers does not give them the right to make determinations concerning the rights of the minority, particularly when it comes to matters of conscience.  Stop acting as though believers “own” the country, Dana.  They never have.  Neither do non-believers.  There is no reason why, in a country as religious as we always have been, that state institutions need to affirm religion, especially as it seems to be accepted wisdom that the state does everything badly.  Why does it then seem so important that the state affirm your faith at the expense of our lack of faith, or would affirm it as well as the “private sector”, i. e. your church or home.