CFI Files Amicus Brief in Massachusetts Pledge Case

August 21, 2013

The Center for Inquiry has filed a brief as an amicus curiae, or friend of the court, in Doe v. Acton-Boxborough Regional School District, SJC-11317, a case pending before the Supreme Judicial Court for Massachusetts. This case involves a challenge to the state law requirement that teachers lead students in the Pledge of Allegiance every school day. The plaintiffs are three anonymous school children and their parents who identify as humanists. The American Humanist Association, to which the parents belong, is a co-plaintiff.

Significantly, although the plaintiffs are challenging the legality of the Pledge exercise, they are not challenging it as unconstitutional under the Establishment Clause or under any part of the United States Constitution. Instead, they are challenging the Pledge exercise as a violation of the equal protection guarantees of the Massachusetts Constitution, as well as a violation of the Massachusetts statute which prohibits schools from denying the advantages and privileges of public school activities to students on the basis of their religion. Suits challenging the Pledge under the Establishment Clause have heretofore been uniformly unsuccessful. The lawsuit is an effort to get a court to look at the legality of the Pledge from a different perspective.

In its brief, CFI makes two principal points. First, assuming the Pledge is an important patriotic exercise—as defendants maintain—the students are being denied the opportunity to participate in this important exercise solely because they are unwilling to affirm belief in God.  This is not a legitimate reason for their exclusion, just as there is no legitimate reason for excluding persons from testifying or serving as public officials because they are unwilling to affirm belief in God. Second, any justification for requiring students to say this is one nation “under God” must be subject to strict scrutiny given the long history of legal discrimination against atheists in the United States.

Argument will be held in this case on September 4, 2013. This case already has one distinctive feature: both the brief of the plaintiffs and the brief of CFI were authored by presidents of secular organizations, both of whom are attorneys. David Niose, past president of the American Humanist Association and current president of the Secular Coalition for America, wrote the plaintiffs’ brief; Ronald A. Lindsay, president of CFI, wrote CFI’s brief.

An electronic version of CFI’s brief is accessible below.