Massachusetts Court Upholds Pledge of Allegiance, Arkansas Shoots Down Gay Marriage Ban
Two important legal decisions came out of state courts this past week regarding the Pledge of Allegiance and the ongoing legal battle over same-sex marriage, and a Facebook update posted by the child of a litigant nullifies a legal settlement.
Massachusetts Court Protects “Under God” in Pledge of Allegiance
On Friday, Massachusetts’ highest court in Doe v Acton-Boxborough Regional Schools applied the state’s equal protection provision to determine that the “Under God” language in the Pledge of Allegiance does not violate the Massachusetts Constitution. Plaintiffs in Doe filed suit to remove the phrase, alleging that children who do not speak it for reasons of non-belief in God are ostracized and stigmatized as “unpatriotic” or “outsiders.” Equal protection in Massachusetts prevents discrimination based on religion or creed, and parents of children who decline to speak the Pledge sought legal protection from feelings of marginalization or exclusion.
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court disagreed with plaintiffs in Doe, pointing out that no one is forced to speak the Pledge, and none of the parents were able to point to specific treatment that indicated children who did not say the Pledge were ostracized, criticized, or otherwise mistreated. Rather, the Court found that alleged feelings of being stigmatized or excluded, felt by the children who do not say the Pledge, are not sufficient to force schools to remove the practice. The Massachusetts decision, although limited to the state, is similar to Newdow v Rio Linda Union School Dist, which declined to find recitation of the Pledge unconstitutional under federal law.
Arkansas State Court Rejects State Gay Marriage Ban
In an opinion destined for appeal and debate amongst higher court judges, an Arkansas state court has rejected a state law that bans same-sex marriages. Arkansas’ same-sex marriage ban, passed with overwhelming voter support in 2004, was challenged by 12 gay couples who seek the right to marry, and eight couples looking to have marriages conducted in other states recognized by Arkansas. Judge Christopher Piazza ruled that the longstanding ban violated the Due Process Clause of the Constitution by declaring marriage is a fundamental right that cannot be interfered with by anti-gay marriage laws.
Claiming that the ban was driven by “animus rather than a rational basis,” Judge Piazza determined that Arkansas did not have a right to prohibit same-sex couples from getting married. The case is one of more than 70 lawsuits involving same-sex couples that are being considered across the United States, and the result mirrors several of the more than a dozen decisions from federal courts that have, for various reasons, determined that bans on same-sex marriage are impermissible. As the American judicial system continues to support gay marriage, it seems like only a matter of time before the Supreme Court, which tipped its feelings towards gay marriage in last year’s United States v. Windsor, affirms the right for same-sex couples to marry.
Facebook Post Nullifies Legal Settlement
This March, Patrick Snay, a former high school headmaster, saw his $60,000 settlement in an age discrimination lawsuit nullified after his daughter’s revealing Facebook post violated the terms of the agreement. As part of the settlement agreement, Mr. Snay was not to disclose the result of the case or the amount of money involved. However, because his daughter’s post bragging about the outcome was read by more than 1,200 of her online friends, Snay was found to be in violation of the settlement. Although Snay did not publically release the information, an appeals court determined that his conversation with his daughter was a breach of the agreement, even if it did not reveal the exact dollar amount of the settlement.
The Snay case highlights the importance of two things: 1) Fully understanding the terms of legal settlement agreements, and 2) Keeping details of lawsuits off social media sites. When writing or signing legal settlements, the terms must be fully known and understood by all parties. It is very easy to pay attention only to the bottom line – in this case the $60,000 – but the terms of the agreement can be even more important. Social media sites, like Facebook and Twitter, are easy outlets for opinions and personal news, but none are appropriate places to reveal the details of legal cases. The Snay case is a dramatic illustration of an important rule that lawyers want all clients to follow: keep information about lawsuits private, and off social media websites.