MASSACHUSETTS
Court rules mentioning God does not make the pledge religious

The Pledge of Allegiance does not discriminate against atheists and can be recited at the start of the day in public schools, Massachusetts’ highest court ruled Friday.

The Supreme Judicial Court said the words “under God” in the pledge reflect patriotic practice, not a religious one. The court acknowledged that the wording has a “religious tinge” but said it is fundamentally patriotic and voluntary.

The court was ruling in a lawsuit filed in 2010 by an atheist family from Acton who claimed that the daily recitation of the pledge in classrooms violated their three children’s equal protection rights under the state constitution, which protects against discrimination. The family was not identified in the lawsuit.

The phrase “under God,” which was added to the pledge in 1954, has been the subject of numerous lawsuits over the years.

— Associated Press

NEW JERSEY
Citizenship ceremony canceled over banning of opening prayer

A New Jersey town has canceled a naturalization ceremony at its borough hall because federal immigration officials refused to let the event begin with a prayer.

Carteret Mayor Daniel Reiman said he had requested that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services relocate the Saturday ceremony, which will now be held in the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ Newark office.

Katie Tichacek Kaplan, a spokeswoman for the immigration agency, said it’s a long-standing policy to make sure naturalization ceremonies are “conducted in a meaningful manner which is welcoming and inclusive and excludes political, commercial and religious statements.”

Both Reiman and immigration officials cited Monday’s Supreme Court opinion affirming the right of local governments to include certain prayers in official proceedings. Reiman said the ruling means he should be able to open any event at city hall with a prayer and a moment of silence. The citizenship agency said the high court’s ruling does not mean federal agencies are required to include prayers as part of their ceremonies.

Carteret is a central New Jersey borough of about 24,000 residents just west of Staten Island.

— Associated Press

De Blasio appoints new New York fire chief: New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Friday that retired fire officer Daniel Nigro has been appointed to lead the nation’s largest fire department. Nigro helped rebuild the Fire Department of New York after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The attacks killed 343 FDNY members.

Four found shot to death in California home: A 28-year-old man shot and killed three members of a Southern California family at the home where they all lived before turning the gun on himself, authorities said Friday. The four bodies were found late Thursday inside the single-story house in a residential area of Pomona, police said. A woman in her 50s and her 24-year-old daughter and 17-year-old son were killed in their respective bedrooms, and the suspect was found at the foot of the younger woman’s bed, according to officials.

— From news services