- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Federal officials have backed away from rewriting the Oath of Allegiance taken by new citizens, after criticism from Congress and veterans who say the new pledge places less emphasis on defending the Constitution.

Public reaction to the Oath has been critical — in particular, language that calls for the defense, not support, of the Constitution “where and if lawfully required.”

The current oath includes an unconditional pledge to “support and defend the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America against all enemies foreign and domestic.”

The proposed oath also dropped the pledge to “bear true faith and allegiance to” and “bear arms on behalf of” the Constitution and laws of the United States.

But a spokesman for the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS) says the proposed language and date of release of the revised oath were never decided, and that reports were based on “an internal discussion and document that found its way public.”

“There was a potential revision, an internal communication, and also a suggestion that tomorrow would be an ideal release, an unveiling, but that was one of many internal recommendations and discussions of what we hope will one day be a new oath,” BCIS spokesman Russ Knocke said.

BCIS, a division of the Homeland Security Department, was rewriting the pledge to simplify and update it.

Mr. Knocke said published reports that the unveiling was postponed because of negative public reaction were “not entirely accurate,” and continual revisions are under way.

“We are very encouraged by the amount of feedback we have gotten that has really communicated a lot of support,” he said.

Some veterans reacted angrily to the proposed language. Other critics called it “dumb.” As a result, one senator said the circa-1790 oath doesn’t need change and wants to codify its language.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, Tennessee Republican, said the wording is the responsibility of elected members of Congress and should not be left to government bureaucrats.

“The Oath of Allegiance is a fundamental statement on the commitment of becoming a United States citizen. It should not be altered by a government agency, no matter how well-intentioned,” Mr. Alexander said during a Senate floor speech last week after learning of the proposed changes.

However, a spokeswoman for Mr. Alexander said the senator is open to suggestions for changes in the wording, but that any should be made after reviewing public comment and with the same dignity afforded the country’s flag, Pledge of Allegiance, and national anthem, all of which are determined by law.

Edwin Meese III, attorney general during the Reagan administration and chairman of the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at the Heritage Foundation, appealed to the Bush administration to reconsider the “problematic” changes.

Simplifying the language in the Oath will “weaken the powerful language and change the substantive meaning of this most important citizenship pledge,” Mr. Meese said.

Dan Stein, executive director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said a pledge of allegiance should not contain loopholes.

“You’re either with us or you’re not,” Mr. Stein said.

Framing the Oath is the responsibility of the American people through their representatives in Congress, “not unelected bureaucrats” who he said are “dumbing down everything in this country.”

Unveiling of a new oath was supposed to be timed with Constitution Week, when more than 13,000 immigrants will become citizens in 50 ceremonies across the country.

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