BOSTON (BP) -- Reciting the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance is constitutional, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled today (May 9).
The court ruled that the pledge is voluntary and allowed under state law. If a student objects to the terms "under God," they can skip that part of the pledge, Chief Justice Roderick Ireland said.
"Students are free, for any reason or for no reason at all, to recite it in its entirety, not recite it at all, or recite or decline to recite any part of it they choose, without fear of punishment," Ireland wrote, according to The Boston Globe.
A telephone survey of 1,001 Americans from Nashville-based LifeWay Research, found little support for efforts to change the pledge.
Less than 1 in 10 Americans (8 percent) want to remove "under God" from the pledge. Eighty-five percent say to keep the phrase.
Researchers also found that 1 in 4 Americans (25 percent) believe forcing students to say "under God" violates their rights.
Today's decision concludes a legal battle that started in 2010. An atheist couple, who have three children in public school, objected to the pledge because they said it violates their beliefs.
The couple also feared their children would be labeled unpatriotic, since they don't believe in God. A similar lawsuit has been filed in New Jersey.
Both cases are part of a new legal strategy for atheist groups. Their efforts to change the pledge have failed in federal courts. So they've switched focus to state courts, according to the Christian Science Monitor.
Instead of arguing the Pledge violates the First Amendment, atheist groups now argue that reciting it discriminates against nonbelievers.
"So if you're an atheist who happens to feel that you're being discriminated against, it only makes sense to consider all of the alternatives," David Niose, legal director at the American Humanist Association, told the Monitor.
Judges in Massachusetts rejected the discrimination claim. They found no evidence the children had been harmed because they refused to say the pledge.
"There is nothing in the record indicating that this has in fact happened to the plaintiffs' children or to any other Massachusetts schoolchildren because of their decision to exercise their right not to recite the words 'under God' in the pledge," Ireland wrote concerning the claim of harm.
According to Lifeway Research, younger Americans are more likely to support removal of "under God" from the pledge. Fourteen percent of those ages 18-29 want to remove the phrase, compared to 5 percent of those over 64.
Women (88 percent) are more likely to want to keep "under God" than men (83 percent). Americans with a college degree are more likely (13 percent) to want it removed. And, self-identified born again, evangelical or fundamentalist Christians are most likely (94 percent) to say "under God" should remain.
Bob Smietana is senior writer for LifeWay Christian Resources. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress
), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress
) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp