Standing in class, staring up at the American flag, placing your right hand over your heart, and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, this is a memory we can all recall from childhood. Recently, however, a cloud of controversy has entangled a Colorado High School were a student recited the Pledge in Arabic. Tom Lopez, the principal at Rocky Mount High School, is defending his decision to let students from the Cultural Arms Club deliver the Pledge of Allegiance in Arabic. The student-led club seeks to “destroy the barriers, embrace the cultures” that exist not only within the confines of the high school but in the broader community as well.
The Pledge is recited once a week on Mondays and previously it has been translated into both French and Spanish. While the school faced a storm of debate after the Spanish version was delivered, the recent translation into Arabic has ignited a firestorm from parents and community members. The school recognized that the decision to allow students to recite the Pledge in Arabic would not be well received by everyone but the bombardment of criticism may have been more than expected. In particular, an Arabic translation would have substituted “one nation under God” with “one nation under Allah.” One individual objecting to the clubs actions believes that it was a malicious attempt to stir up controversy by targeting a group that would clearly object. Other community members applauded the translation and one student notes that regardless of the language used the content and meaning of the Pledge remains. The club also anticipates translating the Pledge into Korean, American Sign Language, and possibly Chinese.
The School may have the option of prohibiting the club from further translation if it deems it necessary to avoid future battles with the community. As we discussed in a previous blog post, Supreme Court precedent demonstrates that school officials may regulate student speech that “members of the public might reasonably perceive to bear the imprimatur of the school.” However, school officials may only place reasonable restrictions on speech that is considered to be school-sponsored and the reasonableness of such constraints rests on the schools ability to articulate a legitimate academic concern.
If your institution has any further questions or concerns about education law related matters, please email James G. Ryan at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at (516) 357-3750.
A special thanks to Cynthia Thomas a law clerk at Cullen and Dykman LLP, for help with this post.
-  Hazelwood Sch. Dist. v. Kuhlmeier 484 U.S. 260, 271(1988). ↩