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Does recitation of pledge violate rights of students?

THIS week, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court will hear oral arguments on the question of whether the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools violates the rights of students.

In Doe v. Acton-Boxborough Regional School District, an atheist couple argues the pledge violates the state's equal rights laws because it includes the phrase "under God."

We've been down this road before, and so far the attempts to strike down the pledge have failed. However, a victory by Doe would trigger a wave of lawsuits across the country.

Those arguing in favor of keeping the pledge have several advantages:

* A lower Massachusetts court has already ruled against the atheists. Middlesex Superior Court Judge Jane Haggerty ruled last year that reciting the pledge was a patriotic exercise and not a state endorsement of a particular religion that would violate the Constitution's establishment clause.

"The pledge is a voluntary patriot exercise, and the inclusion of the phrase 'under God' does not convert the exercise into a prayer," the judge wrote.

* In 2010, a U.S. District Court in California ruled against Dr. Michael Newdow in his lawsuit over the pledge. Newdow, an atheist, argued that having students say the pledge violated the constitutional rights of his daughter and other children, even though students were not required to say the pledge.

The court found that the pledge was a reflection of the ideals upon which the country was founded, including the belief that certain inalienable rights come from God. The court added that, "Not every mention of God or religion by our government or the government's direction is a violation of the establishment clause."

* In a 1984 U.S. Supreme Court decision (Lynch v. Donnelly), the justices determined that the Constitution does not require a complete separation of church and state. Instead, it mandates accommodation of differing religious views.

Accommodation is accomplished by allowing students who object to the pledge to refrain from repeating it. It does not mean, however, that this simple patriotic statement must be stricken from the public domain.

America is a wonderfully pluralistic society that values individual freedom and liberty above all.

What people do with those rights is up to them, but there is no denying their source.

The same founders who included in the First Amendment the prohibition of a state-sponsored religion also signed on to a declaration of self-evident truths.  These are not subject to the faint breezes of political correctness or the arbitrary carping of those most easily offended.

Kercheval is host of TalkLine, broadcast by the MetroNews Statewide Radio Network from 10 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday. The show can be heard locally on WCHS 580 AM.




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