- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 12, 2001

A Loudoun County father has filed a civil rights grievance to stop Virginia school students from reciting the Pledge of Allegiance because he says the words exclude foreign nationals and offend some religions.
Edward Myers, an American citizen and a software engineer from Sterling, has petitioned the U.S. Department of Justice to replace the pledge with patriotic songs and sayings that are neutral to religion and citizenship and therefore more inclusive than the pledge itself.
Mr. Myers first raised objections to the pledge when his son entered school last year. He also founded a group called Freedom Friday that encourages students in public schools to take a holiday from the pledge every Friday.
He said he filed the grievance because people had started rallying around the pledge after the September 11 terrorist attacks.
"The pledge is being sold as a uniform activity, but the problem is it is not inclusive of those who are foreign nationals. Certain religious groups also oppose it because it pledges allegiance to something other than their god," he said.
Instead of the pledge, Mr. Myers is requesting that songs such as "America the Beautiful" or the national anthem, and quotes from documents such as the Constitution, the Virginia Bill of Rights and the Gettysburg Address should be used by schools during the time set aside for the pledge.
"While I am not thrilled about the national anthem as an option, it would be better than the pledge because there is a difference between respecting another country and bowing in allegiance to it," he said.
Earlier this year, Virginia passed a law requiring all public schools to lead the recitation of the pledge. Students have the option to remain silent.
Mr. Myers said there are several children who do not say the pledge at school.
"But they would like to participate. We need a patriotic expression with a broader base about what it means to be an American," he said. Students who still wanted to say the pledge could do so silently during the mandated moment of silence, he said.
After the September 11 attacks, schools around the Washington region reported that several students, who did not usually participate in reciting the pledge, were beginning to say it. On Oct. 12, thousands of students around the country joined Secretary of Education Rod Paige in reciting the pledge as a show of solidarity after the terrorist attacks.
Mr. Myers, whose Philippines-born wife is a naturalized U.S. citizen, has a second-grader at Loudoun's Sugarland Elementary School. He said he did not know whether his son, Jordan, recites the pledge at school.
In past rulings, the Supreme Court has refused to bar recitation of the pledge in schools but has held that students cannot be compelled to recite it.
While Mr. Myers' campaign is still a one-man drive, he said he is aware that several foreigners are not comfortable saying the pledge. He said Northern Virginia needs to be particularly sensitive to this issue because a number of foreign nationals live in the area.
Mr. Myers put the issue before the School Board last month, but it was met with disapproval both from the board and audience members. One audience member even asked him to leave the country, he said.
Board member John A. Andrews yesterday said he did not see what the "brouhaha is about."
"What will it be next? That we are not supposed to sing 'God Bless America'? I don't know where something like that ends," he said.
He said he had "a difficulty with [barring the Pledge of Allegiance], especially after September 11."
Mr. Myers has sent copies of his civil rights grievance to Virginia schools Superintendent Jo Lynne DeMary and Loudoun County Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick.
Virginia schools spokesman Charles Pyle said the Department of Education had in the past issued guidelines to school districts summarizing the law on the pledge. Before the law was put into place, he said, it was up to each school district to decide whether or not to recite the pledge.
Even before the law came into effect, he said, "the department did nothing to discourage the practice of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance."

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