School Sparks Controversy After Student Says Pledge of Allegiance in Arabic

Some kids and community members believe it should only be recited in English.
(Photo: Getty Images/John Moore/ Staff)
Mar 21, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

It’s a ritual that millions of American students participate in on a daily basis. But a morning recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance at a high school in Pine Bush, New York, an upstate community about an hour north of the Big Apple, has sparked a heated debate—all because a student didn’t say it in English.

Or rather, because the student recited the pledge in Arabic.

As part of Pine Bush High School’s efforts to observe National Foreign Language Week, the pledge was to be read every day in a different language. But after an Arabic-speaking student recited it on Wednesday, some of the high school’s students began yelling their disapproval in class. Outraged kids then took to social media to voice their anger, reported the Times-Herald Record.

“The pledge should always be said in English. They could’ve just said ‘Good morning’ in a different language each day,” tweeted one student, according to the paper.

Outraged community members also began contacting the school and district officials. Superintendent Joan Carbone told the paper that some of the people who called or emailed her or the school were angry because they believe saying the pledge in Arabic is anti-Semitic. Others were furious because they had lost relatives who fought in Afghanistan—never mind that Arabic isn’t the official language of that country. Dari and Pashto, which are variations of Persian, are spoken there.

The school’s principal, Aaron Hopmayer, interrupted classes on Wednesday afternoon with an announcement explaining the reason for the Arabic recitation, and he issued an apology. The district went on to post a statement about the incident on its website.

“We sincerely apologize to any students, staff or community members who found this activity disrespectful. In our school district the Pledge of Allegiance will only be recited in English as recommended by the Commissioner of Education,” reads the statement.

The United States has no official language, and New York only mandates that the wording of the pledge not be altered. There’s no requirement that it be said in English.

The district’s apology has angered some students, members of the Pine Bush community, and Arab American activists.

“When a simple student activity designed to promote mutual understanding receives such a negative reaction and the school in which it takes place is forced to issue a public apology, all Americans who value our nation’s history of religious and ethnic diversity should be concerned,” Sadyia Khalique, a spokeswoman for the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told The Associated Press.

The school seems to be punishing Andrew Zink, the president of Pine Bush’s senior class, for the incident. It was Zink’s idea to have the the pledge read in Arabic. When he showed up in the school office to read the morning announcements on Thursday, he was told his services were no longer required.

“You’re not doing it anymore,” Zink said the principal told him, according to the Times-Herald Record. Zink also said the administration squashed his plans to hold a school rally to discuss the situation.

“So even though we were going to be peaceful and others had threatened violence, we got punished,” Zink told the paper.