The words “under God” were added to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954, and some people have wondered over the years if the pledge could fall under the definition of a school prayer. Massachusetts is among the states that have seen legal action regarding the issue.
Supporters of using the phrase in the pledge had a victory in May 2014 when the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled that the term “under God” in the pledge does not reflect participation in religion, but is more of a patriotic practice, The Washington Post reported
. The court noted that there was a “religious tinge” to the phrase, but that it was a voluntary practice that consisted of allegiance to the country.
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The American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center represented
a Massachusetts humanist family when filing the lawsuit in 2010 against the Acton-Boxborough Regional School District. Humanism bases its progressive philosophy on responsibility to self and humanity. The case was unique in that it sought constitutional rights for atheists and humanists rather than focusing on the phrase “under God” as a prayer that violated the First Amendment and the issue of church and state separation.
“Any daily patriotic exercise should be inclusive of all Massachusetts children, without portraying believers as being better patriots than nonbelievers,” stated Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. He argued that the pledge combines patriotism with religion.
Freedom of expression covers many issues on school grounds and often affects those who want to convey a religious message, sometimes promoting prayer events outside of school. Massachusetts has a Student Free Expression Act. In a 1996 case involving the South Hadley School Committee, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled that students can express themselves as long as their views and actions are not disruptive, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts
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