A Massachusetts atheist couple’s challenge to the required recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in school – specifically the phrase, “under God” – will reach the state’s highest court this week.
Religion News Services, or RNS, reports Massachusetts’ highest court, the Supreme Judicial Court , will consider Doe v. Action-Boxborough Regional School District on Wednesday, which is expected to rule whether the pledge violates students’ rights.
The verdict may reverberate around the nation.
Notably, the suit, which was lodged by attorneys for an anonymous atheist couple, will reportedly mark a departure from similar and previous challenges to the pledge – and the “under God” phrase – which have in the past reached as far as the U.S. Supreme Court.
“A win for us . . .would affirm that it is not discriminatory to have the words ‘under God’ in the pledge.”
- Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel for the Becket Fund
In this case, plaintiffs’ lawyers, according to RNS, will argue compulsory recitation represents an injury to the state’s equal rights laws, or the guarantee of equal protection for all concerned under those laws.
As RNS notes, such legal maneuvering borrows a page directly from the recently successful campaign lodged to legalize same-sex marriage, which made a similar and successful argument, also before the state’s Supreme Judicial Court.
The defendants – represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty – reportedly won the first round of the much-watched legal tug-of-war in June 2012, when a lower court judge ruled recitation of the pledge did not violate the Massachusetts Constitution, the school district’s anti-discrimination policy or state law.
According to RNS, the oral arguments slated for Wednesday stem from an appeal of that decision.
One thing seems certain – that the higher court’s ruling will have potentially far-reaching implications for school districts, and those on both sides of the issue, around the nation.
Should the court rule in favor of the plaintiffs, Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel for the Becket Fund, reportedly said, “You would then see a rash of state court lawsuits challenging the pledge all over the country.
“A win for us would completely avoid that unnecessary harm. And it would affirm that it is not discriminatory to have the words ‘under God’ in the pledge.”