When an Overreaction to “Under God” Tried to Get Around the Constitution


Somehow, it’s become increasingly difficult for Americans – in particular, with regard to activities in our nation’s schools – to tell the difference between “that’s not my personal preference” and “that’s unconstitutional!” Thankfully, Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys are enjoying some success in educating students, parents, and school officials on the difference … and defending the freedoms you and your family cherish.

In Boston, for instance, our nation’s historic “Cradle of Liberty,” some students and parents began complaining that they were “offended” at the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. Although reciting the pledge isn’t mandatory in Massachusetts schools, the offended group eventually endeavored to have it legally banned from classrooms altogether.

Alliance Defending Freedom and Massachusetts Family Institute filed a joint friend-of-the-court brief in the case, and the Acton-Boxborough Regional School District expressly incorporated most of the brief’s arguments into its defense of the law that makes the Pledge part of public school practice within the commonwealth.

On May 9, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools does not violate the commonwealth’s constitution or laws.

“Simply being offended by something does not make it a violation of the Massachusetts Constitution,” explained ADF Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco. “As we argued in our brief and as the Supreme Judicial Court found, the recitation is completely voluntary, and listening to the words ‘under God’ does not violate anyone’s constitutional freedoms.”

The Supreme Judicial Court’s decision upheld a lower court ruling that the phrase “under God” in the Pledge serves as a clear “acknowledgment of the Founding Fathers political philosophy, and the historical and religious traditions of the United States.”

In its own ruling last week, the court wrote, “We hold that the recitation of the pledge, which is entirely voluntary, violates neither the Constitution nor the statute [which prohibits discrimination in Massachusetts public school education]….”

“The fact that a school or other public entity operates a voluntary program or offers an activity that offends the religious beliefs of one or more individuals,” the court added, “and leaves them feeling ‘stigmatized’ or ‘excluded’ as a result, does not mean that the program or activity necessarily violates equal protection principles.”

It is a sad thing that our nation’s increasingly “selfie”-centered culture makes so many so much less tolerant of religious freedom. Indeed, it’s not the words “under God” in our Pledge, but the word “indivisible” that is becoming harder to hold onto in a time when so many conflicting notions of “liberty and justice” divide us.

Please be in prayer for our ADF attorneys, as they work to preserve religious freedom and justice for you and other people of faith in America’s courtrooms. And please be in prayer for America itself, as we strive to remember the selfless Constitutional convictions that have been our country’s dependable foundation across two-and-a-half tumultuous centuries.

Author: Alan Sears