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editorial | Pledge of allegiance

Reciting an old argument

THERE ARE good reasons to keep religion where it most belongs, in church and family life, and out of the public square. But relitigating tired arguments about the Pledge of Allegiance doesn’t advance the cause. Alas, another pledge flap is in the works.

An atheist couple with kids in the Acton-Boxborough school district claim that because the Pledge of Allegiance includes the phrase “under God,’’ it associates patriotism with religion, and that any official recitation of the pledge therefore discriminates against nonbelievers. The plaintiffs (who remain anonymous) insist that this is a violation of the Massachusetts Constitution, which guarantees equal rights without regard to sex, race, or religion.

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It’s a strained argument over an issue that’s been hashed out many times. The state constitution itself contains multiple references to God, beginning with the preamble’s nod to “the goodness of the great Legislator of the universe.’’ And yet the Massachusetts Equal Rights Amendment presumably isn’t violated whenever the Massachusetts Constitution is displayed in a public venue.

The Acton-Boxborough suit was originally filed in 2010, but it wasn’t until last month that oral arguments were made in Middlesex Superior Court. Judge Jane Haggerty’s ruling is awaited.

That some people dislike the pledge, either because they think it smacks of loyalty oaths or because of its mention of God, isn’t news. But the Commonwealth’s existing policy strikes the right note of respectful compromise. Public school teachers conduct a voluntary recitation of the pledge in front of an American flag, but no student is required to participate. Like standing for the national anthem before sporting events, pledging allegiance to the flag is a patriotic tradition that countless Americans embrace. Those who wish to participate are free to do so, while those who find it distasteful have every right not to join in.

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