BOSTON (CBS/AP) — The highest court in Massachusetts ruled Friday that reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools does not discriminate against atheists.

The Supreme Judicial Court said the words “under God” in the pledge reflect a patriotic practice, not a religious one.

Read: The SJC Ruling

“We hold that the recitation of the pledge, which is entirely voluntary, violates neither the Constitution nor the statute,” Chief Justice Roderick Ireland wrote, later adding “it is not a litmus test for defining who is or is not patriotic.”

“Although the words “under God” undeniably have a religious tinge, courts that have considered the history of the pledge and the presence of those words have consistently concluded that the pledge, notwithstanding its reference to God, is a fundamentally patriotic exercise, not a religious one.”

An atheist family from Acton sued in 2010 claiming that the daily recitation of the pledge in classrooms violated their three children’s constitutional rights.

The family, who are not identified in the suit, claimed the ruling insinuates that nonbelievers are less patriotic. “No child should go to public school every day, from kindergarten to grade 12, and be faced with an exercise that portrays his or her religious group as less patriotic,” said David Niose, the plaintiffs’ attorney.

“The pledge itself is voluntary,” said Acton-Boxborough Superintendent Stephen Mills. “All kids know that and teachers tell them at the beginning of the school year. Occasionally a child opts out and if that happens the teacher says that’s OK, just sit quietly.”

Mills also believes the plaintiffs’ issue is much broader.

“They want the words ‘under God’ taken out of the pledge of allegiance, which is their right to advocate for. But as a local school superintendent I have no authority to change the wording of our nation’s pledge of allegiance.”

A lower court judge last year ruled that “under God” did not violate the school’s anti-discrimination policy or state law.

The family appealed.

“We likewise reject the plaintiffs’ contention that, when some children choose to exercise their constitutionally protected right not to say the words “under God,” there is necessarily conveyed a message that the children are “unpatriotic.”” Justice Barbara Lenk wrote in Friday’s ruling.

“Patriotism is not a legal status or benefit that is conferred or withheld by the State, and it is certainly not limited to those who recite the pledge in its entirety. There is no litmus test for patriotism. Schools might conduct patriotic exercises, but they do not define who is and who is not patriotic.”

The decision only applies to Massachusetts because the pledge’s language is defined by federal law.

WBZ-TV’s Beth Germano contributed to this report.

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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Comments (4)
  1. When the entertainer at the event in this case it’s an athlete that refuses to stand for the flag in center field durring pledge, thus insulting the guests they are not the same as some one elsewhere not doing so- they should even stand for the opposite country and teams anthems as well when told to do so by their boss. It’s not free speach in that fashion it is a ” Hate Crime Form of Speach” and should be removed – it causes people to get inflamed since a message of hate is directed at them – they should not be allowed on the feild at the fore front position of the ceremony tormenting them. The athletes at pro and even high school games – their protest is not free speech – they are not there to simply play a game. They are putting on a show , putting on an event, they are part of the shows staff, they are part of the events staff and the y overall event. In movies etc actors must be a part of the show they put on as such they when in front of the public down on the field walk out to the center stage they are supposed to perform and be apart of whats going on – meaning they should stand and salute the flag or get off the field and go home since they have decided they will not participate in the show the event that the group they joined is a part in. They are not the same as people in a crowd watching the event by no means and no court ever ruled that freedom of speech is no infringed by someone in an event on center stage that is paid to do a job that they turn around and decide they will not do – their job is not to just play a game but to promote the event the sport the game etc… its all there show since the athlete in the center of the field m, as well as all those apart of the show entertainers they are as such no one refuses to stand for either home team or guest team anthems it’s insulting to the audience they are meant to please.