Saturday, May 10, 2014

Massachusetts Supreme Court Upholds Daily Voluntary Recitation of Pledge of Allegiance In Schools

In Doe v. Acton-Boxborough Regional School District, (MA Sup. Jud. Ct., May 9, 2014), the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court rejected claims by school children and their parents who are atheists and humanists that the voluntary daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance-- including the phrase "under God"-- violates the equality provisions (Art. 106) of the Massachusetts state Constitution and 76 MGL Sec. 5 that prohibits discrimination in public education. The Court said in part:
The plaintiffs do not appear to be claiming that their children have been punished, bullied, criticized, ostracized, or otherwise mistreated by anyone as a result of their decision to decline to recite some (or all) of the pledge.... [T]here 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 art. 106.
Justice Lenk filed a brief concurring opinion, stating in part:
[O]ur holding today should not be construed to bar other claims that might rely on sufficient indicia of harm. Should future plaintiffs demonstrate that the distinction created by the pledge as currently written has engendered bullying or differential treatment, I would leave open the possibility that the equal rights amendment might provide a remedy.
Boston Globe reports on the decision. [Thanks to How Appealing for the lead.]