New approach to remove ‘under God’ from pledge may succeed

Mass-Pledge-PermissionThe pilgrims first set foot in the New World on Plymouth Rock in search of religious freedom. Plymouth Rock is located in what would later become known as Massachusetts, and a group of citizens there are now seeking to remove “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance.

On Sept. 4, the Massachusetts Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on whether the daily recitation of the pledge in school violates students’ rights due to the inclusion of those two words, according to Religion News Service.

Although the controversy centers on the words, “under God,” plaintiffs in Doe v. Action-Boxborough Regional School District are departing from the usual First Amendment religious violation claim, alleging instead that compulsory recitation violates the state’s equal protection laws. That is the same theory used to successfully argue for same-sex marriage.

The plaintiffs, an anonymous atheist couple, are represented by the American Humanist Association. According to the Becket Fund for Religious Freedom:

On October 21, 2011, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty filed a request to intervene in the case on behalf of students who want to continue saying the Pledge of Allegiance, their parents, and the Knights of Columbus. The Becket Fund entered the case to defend the Pledge from yet another constitutional challenge to the words “under God”.

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On June 8, 2012, a Massachusetts state court upheld the Pledge as constitutional.  The case is now before the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts.  The court has scheduled oral argument for September 4, 2013.

The change in tactics, if successful, could lead to similar lawsuits filed in other state courts, experts predict.

“You would then see a rash of state court lawsuits challenging the pledge all over the country,” said Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel for the Becket Fund. “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.

“There is disagreement, but there is not discrimination,” Rassbach added. “That is what is at the heart of this — disagreement about what the government should do.”

Decades ago, the late comedian Red Skelton made a remarkable recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, and no one has topped it since. If you’re surprised about his deletion of the words, “under God,” continue watching until the end — it’ll all make sense.

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