A New York high school is mired in controversy this week after a student delivered the Pledge of Allegiance in Arabic, sparking outrage among classmates and locals who believe the pledge should only be delivered in English.
According to the Times Herald-Record, Pine Bush High School opened their announcements on Wednesday morning by allowing a student to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in Arabic, part of the school’s celebration of National Foreign Language Week. But students say the pledge, which was broadcast over the school’s intercom, resulted in “catcalls and angry denunciations” in several classrooms and online.
“The pledge should always be said in English,” one student tweeted. “They could’ve just said ‘Good Morning’ in a different language each day.”
Local members of the American Legion, a veterans organization, also blasted the decision.
“This is America, and we speak English in America,” post Commander Andrew Brew told reporters.
Conservative media outlets were quick to leap on the story, some specifically taking issue with the use of the word “Allah” in the pledge, the Arabic word for God. Others, such as Dr. Zuhdi Jasser of the Islamic Forum for Democracy, implied to Fox News that saying the pledge in Arabic might encourage “Muslim youth” to join ISIS, the radical militant group currently terrorizing whole sections of the Middle East.
“We are at war with radical Islam which uses the Arabic language,” he said. “Those kids probably didn’t know what they were saying…But what they were saying would be lost in translation. It’s the exact core of what we’re fighting.”
Although most people in the United States speak English, it does not have an official national language, and is known to be a country of rich linguistic diversity. According to the American Community Survey 2009, which is used by the United States Census Bureau, tens of millions of Americans are fluent in languages other than English, including 35 million who speak Spanish, 2.6 million who regularly converse in various versions of Chinese, and 845,000 Arabic speakers.
But as the debate over the incident hit its peak on Wednesday, the Pine Bush officials issued an apology, promising only to read the pledge in English moving forward.
We sincerely apologize for having the Pledge of Allegiance recited this morning in the High School in a language other than English … To honor National Foreign Language week and in an effort to celebrate the many races, cultures and religions that make up this great country and our school district, the foreign language department planned to read the Pledge of Allegiance and morning announcements in different languages this week. The intention was to promote the fact that those who speak a language other than English still pledge to salute this great country.
The statement also claimed that New York state Education Department regulations require the pledge to be read in English. Department officials later clarified the rules only constrict the wording of the pledge, not the language.
Regardless, the administration reportedly reprimanded Andrew Zink, the senior class president at Pine Bush who normally delivers morning announcements and who approved the Arabic reading. Zink told the Times Herald-Record that when he reported on Thursday morning to deliver the announcements, the principal told him that he was “not doing it anymore.” Pine Bush administrators also quashed his plan to hold a student rally to discuss the fervor, explaining that the school had been threatened with violence.
But Zink said he’d do it all over again despite the controversy “because it’s the right thing to do.”
“I knew many wouldn’t support it,” he said. “I knew exactly what would happen.”
Zink’s Twitter feed has been flooded with tweets affirming his actions, and many others — including military veterans — have voiced support for the Arabic reading. One woman claiming to be a former Pine Bush student used Instagram to defend the Arabic version of the pledge, criticizing the administration’s apology and posting a picture of the word “American” written on her arm in Arabic.
“The reaction was disgustingly negative and the students that supported the decision were harassed,” she wrote. “ENGLISH IS NOT AMERICAN. One nation. Indivisible. With Liberty and justice for ALL.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation’s largest advocacy organization for Muslims, released a statement questioning the purpose of Pine Bush’s apology.
“The meaning of the Pledge of Allegiance is the same regardless of the language in which it’s recited,” said CAIR-NY Spokeswoman Sadyia Khalique. “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. One has to wonder if such an intolerant response would have resulted from reading the pledge in a language other than Arabic.”
Pine Bush has been the subject of controversy before, and is currently embroiled in a lawsuit filed by several local Jewish families who claim their children were victims of anti-Semitic harassment while in class. It’s also not the first time a high school has stoked ire for reciting the pledge in Arabic; in 2013, a multicultural club at Rocky Mountain High School in Colorado recited an Arabic version of the pledge before the student body, resulting in a slew of angry calls from parents.