A New Court Battle Over the Pledge of Allegiance

A group of atheists in Massachusetts is challenging the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, but not because of the separation of church and state.

The American Prospect reports the group, American Humanist Association, says the phrase violates Masachusetts’ constitutional prohibition on discrimination based on religion. The group says the Pledge links patriotism with belief in God, thereby ostrasizing nonbelievers.

If the U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of the atheist group, the decision would only affect Massachusetts, but it could embolden other groups to try the same tact nationwide.

The ruling in the Massachusetts case isn’t expected for several months, but Roy Speckhardt (executive director of the group) says his organization is already investigating other states—specifically, New Jersey and Connecticut—where similar cases could be successfully launched. They will pursue these cases regardless of the outcome in the current case, but the momentum from a win in Massachusetts would help fuel the fight. For them, the case represents a place where the growing numbers of religious unaffiliated Americans should lead to an obvious outcome: striking a specific nod to a monotheistic god from a government-mandated pledge. The question is whether the Massachusetts Supreme Court sees the need to issue another unpopular decision, which could begin to remake a ritual that has been enmeshed in American public education for the past 70 years.