God OK in Pledge of Allegiance, court rules

The Supreme Judicial Court ruled today that the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance doesn't violate the First Amendment rights of non-believers in part because its origins are in Cold War patriotism, not religion - and in part because nobody in Massachusetts can be forced to recite it.

The state's highest court's ruling comes in the case of an atheist Acton couple who objected to the inclusion of the phrase in the pledge their three children wanted to recite with their classmates every morning.

The court noted that while the phrase "under God" can obviously carry a religious connotation:

[C]ourts that have considered the history of the pledge and the presence of those words have consistently concluded that the pledge, notwithstanding its reference to God, is a fundamentally patriotic exercise, not a religious one.

The justices explained:

In 1954, Congress amended the pledge to include the words "under God." ... The amendment came during the escalation of the Cold War, and there is some indication in the legislative history that the amendment was intended to underscore that the American form of government was "founded on the concept of the individuality and the dignity of the human being," which is grounded in "the belief that the human person is important because he was created by God and endowed by Him with certain inalienable rights which no civil authority may usurp."

They continued that the parents presented no proof their children were in any way punished, ostracized or bullied for not reciting the pledge:

There is no evidence in the summary judgment record that the plaintiffs' children have in fact been treated by school administrators, teachers, staff, fellow students, or anyone else any differently from other children because of their religious beliefs, or because of how they participate in the pledge. Nor is there any evidence that they have in fact been perceived any differently for those reasons. The plaintiffs do identify what they claim is a poor public perception of atheists in general, and they maintain that their children's failure to recite the pledge in its entirety may "possibly" lead to "unwanted attention, criticism, and potential bullying." However, there is nothing in the record indicating that this has in fact happened to the plaintiffs' children or to any other Massachusetts schoolchildren because of their decision to exercise their right not to recite the words "under God" in the pledge. In short, there is nothing empirical or even anecdotal in the summary judgment record to support a claim that the children actually have been treated or perceived by others as "outsiders," "second-class citizens," or "unpatriotic."

The plaintiffs' claim of stigma is more esoteric. They contend that the mere recitation of the pledge in the schools is itself a public repudiation of their religious values, and, in essence, a public announcement that they do not belong. It is this alleged repudiation that they say causes them to feel marginalized, sending a message to them and to others that, because they do not share all of the values that are being recited, they are "unpatriotic" "outsiders." We hold that this very limited type of consequence alleged by the plaintiffs--feeling stigmatized and excluded - is not cognizable under [the state equivalent of the First Amendment].

The decision is the second ruling this week that would affect the Boston City Council if anybody objected to the way it opens its regular meetings with a prayer by a local member of the clergy and the Pledge of Allegiance - although to date nobody has. The US Supreme Court upheld the right of a New York town to open its legislative meetings with a clergy-led prayer.

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    Comments

    "The Flag Prayer"

    In his first days of kindergarten, my son called it "the Flag prayer", because it reminded him of lighting the chalice in Sunday school.

    Mouths of babes ...

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    Amen

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    Every morning in Catholic school we would say a prayer and end it with Amen. Then we would say the Pledge and to this day I always want to say Amen at the end.

    On a more serious note - I actually think the flag and things like the pledge are important. We are a diverse country with all kinds of different interests, backgrounds etc. But we are united by a constitution (and really only that) which in my mind is represented by the flag (the symbols of the 13 original signers and the 37 that followed).

    I attended a city council meeting the other day and everyone rose to say the pledge - including the Imam that led an opening benediction, the Asian woman (Councilor Wu) that introduced him, my Jewish friend across the room (hi Adam), students working against domestic violence and the police union reps that were there and lots of other people of different races and creeds - all pledging that we are bound together by, in fact assembled because of, the symbol hanging in the front of the room. When you look at it that way - I think the pledge is kind of cool, and if you don't want to say "under God", don't say it. I promise not to beat you up in the playground.

    How about this twist?

    By on

    Let's take "under God" out. The rest of us promise to pause the three beats before proceeding and you can say "under God" if you want to. I promise, none of us have any interest in beating anyone up on the playground either.

    Why do I have to omit your proclivities? Why isn't this treated more like the Presidential Oath of Office where the choice to end with "so help me God" is theirs to make?

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    OK

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    Doesn't bother me one way or the other. But I don't make the rules. Go talk to the SJC.

    "But I already Pledged!"

    My brother, age six, day three of first grade.

    He didn't understand why he had to say it over and over - he said it, he meant it ...

    Also realize that "under God" was a McCarthyite addition to the original text.

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    In other words...

    ...the court ruled correctly and it is about the state and not religion. On the other hand, try to refuse to say it in Best Korea. No rice bowl for you, comrade. Enjoy your stay in the camp.

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    What a pity that you think like that...

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    Also, religion aside, I recited the pledge every day in school growing up. I felt a sense of pride every time I recited it, and out of pride for that pledge, I eventually joined the U.S. Coast Guard because I had learned that service to the country that I pledged my allegiance was the highest calling. Just because I believe that doesn't mean I'm goose stepping in military parades, or outing my neighbors for thought crimes.

    If you can't pledge allegiance to your own nation, then what can you pledge your allegiance to? Money? Yourself?

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    False choice

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    I don't have to say a pledge every school day of my childhood in order to hold allegiance to the ideals of my country.

    On weekends and over the summer, did I somehow become a heathen fit for deportation? Have I now that I'm no longer in grade school?

    Did saying the pledge make me a better person? Would you have not joined the Coast Guard if you didn't say the pledge?

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    You missed the point...

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    The pledge gave alums a sense of unity, if only for a moment or so. But the message was clear: we must be indivisible and united, or we will fall. So, while you wallow in your own self importance, please consider what divided, fallen United States would look like.

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    "Sense of Unity?"

    Really? I thought what the pledge taught us was that you had to stand up and mumble certain words when the principal said to do so.

    The "Red scares" of the early 20th century and the machinations of Joe McCarthy and his ilk in the 1950s were not exactly shining moments in America's history, nor did their trappings (loyalty oaths, injecting "under God" into the Pledge and requiring it in schools, etc.) speak well of who we are as a nation. I think the pledge ought to be relegated to the same historical dustbin as fallout shelter signs.

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    Projection

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    Odd that you'd think to attribute excessive self-importance to me when the only person declaring that they've got something special that the rest of us don't...is you.

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    I can pledge allegiance just fine, thank you.

    If you can't pledge allegiance to your own nation, then what can you pledge your allegiance to? Money? Yourself?

    I personally consider myself to be patriotic, not only in attitude but with regard to symbols. I know and respect flag etiquette, for example.

    There's a world of difference between an adult choosing to display patriotism voluntarily, versus a child being told to do so by the authority at the head of his or her classroom.

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    Whooossh

    umm.. it's not that unity and allegiance are dumb, it's that bogus, coerced displays of unity and allegiance are dumb.

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    Most 7 year olds don't say

    Most 7 year olds don't say the pledge out of unity or allegiance; they say it either to please the teacher and receive positive feedback, or because they are afraid they will be punished if they do not say it, or both.

    Grade school kids are no more affirming unity & allegiance by saying the pledge, than they are advocating the overthrow of the republic when they make fart noises as the other kids say the pledge.

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    tl;dr version

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    Court concludes "under God", is not really referring to God.

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    If you look at the damage

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    that Communism's totalitarian animosity towards religion has taken, there are way more Buddhists, Daoists, Jews, Muslims, and Eastern Orthodox who suffered under this policy than there were Protestant Christians of European-American lineage (the majority religions in the US.)

    Our nation might have its religious friction, but no one's going to throw you in jail because you're lighting a menorah or putting up a Christmas tree instead of praying to our Dear Leader. The Communist Revolution in the former USSR and the Cultural Revolution in Maoist China, however, did.

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    Cool story, bro.

    And on Mars, the atmosphere wouldn't support human life. But this conversation isn't really about Mars, is it.

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    Maybe not thrown in jail for

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    Maybe not thrown in jail for lighting a menorah or putting up a Christmas tree, but we do live in a country where a vocal minority want to imprison women who seek abortions and the doctors who perform them - a position guided almost exclusively by a rigid interpretation of religious teachings.

    Many in government feel that a boss's religious beliefs should trump those of his/her workers.

    Yet others want to cripple our nation's technological sector with arcane religious views on science and medicine. You think they're wasting time debating the literal vs figuritive interpretations of the Book of Genesis in Japan, Korea, Germany, or Norway?

    Many states have bans on same-sex marriage in their constitutions - the very place where rights are supposed to be upheld. The basis for these bans? The religious belief that marriage is, and always been, one man and one woman (forgetting the customs of many religions, past and present, that allow for martial rape, child brides, coerced marriages, women as property, etc).

    Anti-bullying laws and hate crime laws are contested and defeated in many places because conservatives fear that the "sincerely held religious beliefs" of perpetrators will victimize them.

    Anti-alcohol blue laws (where still in effect) are largely the result of the puritanical religious influence on government.

    Until just a few years ago, religious conservatism successfully prevented openly gay Americans from serving their country.

    Religious conservatism remains a dangerous threat to liberty. If they win the small things, they'll go after bigger fish.

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    We are a Christian nation

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    establish with christian beliefs, deal with it. Name a nation which was founded without the influence of a belief system.

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    Wait until

    Dearborn Michigan with its majority Muslim population prays to allah to open a governmental meeting or Cupertino California's Buddhists open city business with their prayer. The calls of a Sharia law conspiricy or anti Christian bias will once again flow from the sewers of the right.

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    Boston's clergy tend to be pretty mild mannered

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    When they open City Council meetings. A couple of days ago, the clergy-du-semaine was an imam from Sierra Leone, who quoted John Winthrop on Boston's uniqueness, then went on to praise councilors for the important work they do.

    And then Michelle Wu, who had invited him, led everybody in the Pledge of Allegiance.

    Adam

    that's exactly the type of episode that will cause wing nut heads to explode. When the court said prayer was ok it was for "our" God not their "god".

    That funny because

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    When a president on the USA takes the Oath of Office they place their hand on a BIBLE and Swear in, "So help me GOD."

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    Here is something that

    By on

    Here is something that Wikipedia get right....

    "The idea that certain rights are natural or inalienable also has a history dating back at least to the Stoics of late Antiquity and Catholic law of the early Middle Ages, and descending through the Protestant Reformation and the Age of Enlightenment to today".

    The idea that an individual has inalienable rights that a State cannot take away wasn't original with the Enlightenment. ... So, as you say, deal with it.

    What does the constitution say?

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    The government cannot establish an official religion, nor can they prevent the free expression of their religion (paraphrasing). So, you are wrong. The U.S. was not founded as a Christian nation.

    Besides, how anyone can believe in an invisible being who lives in a magical land and is omnipotent is beyond me .

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    You're right

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    It was not "Founded as a Christian Nation", however its establishment was heavily influenced by Christian believes. Two VERY different things.

    Ok...

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    That proves nothing. We still are a nation under a secular government.

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    Is that why

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    The president swears in using a BIBLE?

    So what does that mean?

    The president swears in using a BIBLE?

    Do people simply not understand what it means for a piece of data to support a claim? How is that a support of the claim that this is a Christian nation?

    Does the fact that the president wears a necktie during the swearing-in support the claim that "this is a necktie nation?"

    Alternatively, you could point out anywhere in the Constitution or in any of the relevant documents that define our government, anything about the use of a bible at the swearing in.

    Lowering the bar

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    A Congressman swears in using a Koran. Are you sure we aren't a Muslim Nation? Or is this like Hearts where the President somehow trumps the Congressman?

    Were we not a Christian Nation when John Quincy Adams was sworn in on a book of law instead of a Bible?

    If the next President swears in on the Sunday comics, are we a Family Circus Nation? Because if that's the case, I might have to go all ex-pat somewhere more sane.

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    John Quincy Adams was known

    John Quincy Adams was known to use a book of law to be sworn in. In fact there is no direct evidence that directly shows any of the presidents between John Adams and John Tyler used the Bible for the inauguration.

    Personal Choice, not Constitutional Requirement

    There is no requirement to use ANY book under a hand during oath of office.

    Some choose a Bible. Congressman Ellison used Thomas Jefferson's copy of the Koran. I don't think Bernie Sanders uses a Bible, either.

    Ultimately, though, it doesn't matter if they use an anthology of Playboy magazine or nothing at all - it isn't any sort of requirement, and some early founding presidents certainly did not use a Bible.

    Obviously

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    Since it is God's word written directly from The Bible, they, being whole-hearted Christians, would have loved it!

    Maybe you should

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    burn all of your money in defiance.

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    Some of these comments are just sad...

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    I am pretty much an atheist. I grew up Catholic but never really believed in what I was being taught. Yet every morning in school, we recited the pledge, and every morning I quietly left out the "under God" part. People who think that pledging allegiance to your country is tantamount to living in a dystopian nightmare make me feel nothing but pity for them. Believe in something other than yourself.

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    What's actually sad is

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    What's actually sad is thinking people who don't care for the pledge can't believe in anything other than themselves.

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    Question for you

    Do you repropose and then rerecite your marriage vows every day just to prove to yourself and the world that you are committed?

    If not married, do you know anyone who does?

    That's what is ridiculous about your comments here - disliking the pledge or even despising that absurd multi-part drinking song cum glorification of an obscure battle we call our national anthem does not have shit all to do with whether or not you are loyal or patriotic. Please get that through your head.

    Separation of Church and State

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    Has nothing to do with religion influencing the founding our of nation. Separation of Church and State was developed to limit organized religions ability to govern. The idea of Separation of Church and State was developed by John Locke 100 years prior to Jefferson.

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    Pledge doesn't make sense to me

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    There are several ways the Pledge of Allegiance does not make sense to me. One is what is the need? I am a citizen who respects federal and state laws, votes in every election, participates as a citizen via correspondence and community organizations, pays the taxes I owe, serve on jury duty whenever called, etc. Did I learn the importance of these activities from reciting the Pledge of Allegiance every morning? No. What I was taught is that these are the ways that every citizen can demonstrate his/her patriotism. Pledges and anthems are fine for developing emotional connections. Perhaps the emotional connections did lead to my understanding of how to be a citizen. But at least as an adult I don't see any reason to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. I let my actions rather than just words speak for me.

    The Pledge of Allegiance starts with a pledge to a flag followed with a secondary pledge to the republic for which is stands. That makes the symbol sound more important than what it symbolizes. My allegiance is to my nation, not to a symbol.

    If kids pledge allegiance to the republic then why not also to their state? We don't have just provinces or subdivisions. Each state is separate political entity that is bound with other states forming a nation. Why not pledge allegiance to the state a person lives in.

    Does god refer to a monotheist? If so how does that work for polytheists? Should a Hindu boy or girl have to say "One nation under God?" Or is it appropriate for Muslims? How about "One nation under Allah?"

    With liberty and justice for all? We're getting there but have a ways to go.

    Or, after all is said and done, is the Pledge actually a daily prayer that is part of our civil religion? Religion - in the sense of a system that gives meaning and binds people together (whether with a god, gods or no deity) does need its rituals.

    Allah = God

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    Or is it appropriate for Muslims? How about "One nation under Allah?"

    Allah is the Arabic word for God. English-speaking Muslims should have no more problem using the word "God" than English-speaking Jews do.

    More proof Mass. is better than Texas

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    The SJC decision left open the possibility that if the Acton parents had been able to prove their kids had suffered problems or punishment for not standing for the pledge, they'd have a case. Probably just as well for them, they live in Acton, Mass., not Needville, TX:

    Boy punished at school for refusing to stand for Pledge of Allegiance :

    “And she told me this is my classroom," said Michalec. "This is the principal’s request. You’re going to stand. And I still didn’t stand and she said she was going to write me up.”

    Michalec says the principal sentenced him to two days of in school suspension, and warned that he could face more ISS if his protest continued.

    Thats funny

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    Because Texas keeps ranking as one of the best places to live in the US, year after year.

    FTFY

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    Chalk one up for the goodGod guys.

    Wait, what?

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    Did the court just rule that God has nothing to do with religion? Forget the court legislating from the bench, now they're theologizing!

    "Nonsense!" cried Alice.

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    Even the Nazis said "Gott mit uns". It's a load of crap to think a supreme being would take any interest in your country and it says exactly nothing about your moral fiber.

    Substitute flag with Constitution?

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    I once took an oath to uphold the Constitution. I would gladly do that over and over again both as a reminder and as a ritual tying me with other patriotic citizens. For me that is completely appropriate in our secular religion.

    On the other hand a flag is easier as an object for an oath. It doesn't require thinking about the meaning and is an easier symbol for developing emotion attachment. The Constitution on the other hand is a complicated document that talks about rights, laws, what government should be and should or should not do. Boring stuff that most people don't care about.

    As for including the words under god: Unless a person is coerced into saying the pledge then to me it's not a big deal. In fact I see the words as being empty and unnecessary.