- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 24, 2002

RICHMOND The words to a salute to the Virginia state flag recited by most members of the House of Delegates will not change despite dissension by black members upset over the pledge's origins, Republicans said yesterday.
The Black Legislative Caucus is expected to introduce legislation today to strip the pledge "Salute to the Flag of Virginia" from the House's daily opening procedures, which also includes saying a prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance to the U.S. flag.
"There were a number of proposals that were made, and all were rejected," House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith, Salem Republican, said of the negotiations between the caucus and Republican leadership.
Most proposals suggested changing the words of the pledge, which first originated in 1946 as a tribute to the state flag during meetings of the Virginia chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The General Assembly adopted the pledge in 1954, when Virginia schools were segregated.
Delegate Kenneth R. Melvin, Portsmouth Democrat and member of the 15-member, mostly Democratic black caucus, said in an emotional speech on the House floor that it was painful for him to hear the pledge.
"Mr. Speaker, more than a handful of your brethren are offended," Mr. Melvin said.
Mr. Melvin said images of segregated schools and slavery come to mind each time the pledge is read.
"The words themselves are not offensive," Mr. Melvin said, but the contexts of the words are. "This time was a prelude to Brown v. Board of Education and massive resistance."
While others say the context of the salute's origin should be overlooked, Mr. Melvin said it would be a disgrace to black members of the House if fellow members did not consider their sensitivities.
"When I think of the Confederacy, I don't think of our brave Southern boys," Mr. Melvin said. "I think of human bondage."
Mr. Griffith said it does not make sense to eliminate the pledge because of its origin. Reciting the pledge was approved unanimously the first day of this session on Jan. 9.
"If we go back and change any words that are slightly offensive, we change history," Mr. Griffith said. "You don't throw out the good with the bad."
Delegate Robert F. McDonnell, Virginia Beach Republican and sponsor of the change in House rules that added the pledge to opening procedures, said historical documents like the Declaration of Independence would have to be redrawn according to the caucus' view of history because its author, Thomas Jefferson, was a slaveholder.
An unlikely pair of legislators Delegate Viola O. Baskerville and Sen. Warren E. Barry are working together to push a bill that would allow women to obtain emergency contraceptives, or the "morning-after pill," from pharmacies without first seeing their doctors.
"I had some concerns last year that this was an abortion pill, and I talked to medical experts and found out that it was a contraceptive," said Mr. Barry, Fairfax Republican.
Mrs. Baskerville, Richmond Democrat, said making the contraceptives more widely available would reduce the number of abortions.
"We can no longer continue to talk about making abortions rare if we do not also act to prevent unintended pregnancies in the first place," Mrs. Baskerville said.
The pills run about $40 and must be taken within 72 hours of sexual intercourse to work. The pills contain a high dose of the chemical used in birth-control pills.
Under current law, a woman first must go to a doctor to obtain a prescription for the drug. Mrs. Baskerville said most women have a hard time getting a doctor's appointment within that time frame, which means they are faced with the choice of having an abortion or going to term if they are pregnant.
Delegate James K. O'Brien Jr., Fairfax Republican, said he is troubled by the bill because it has no controls on teen-age girls taking the pill. The bill has no provision that requires parental consent, but no consent is required to obtain birth-control pills, either.
A bill that would require public schools to post "In God We Trust" won House approval on a voice vote. The final vote on the bill is set for today. It faces an uncertain future in the Senate, where last year Sen. Richard L. Saslaw, Fairfax Democrat, had the bill killed in committee after complaining about the cost schools would incur.
The bill's sponsor, Delegate Robert G. Marshall, Prince William Republican, said this year's version of the legislation allows schools to accept private donations to defray the costs.
Nobody spoke against the bill, and Mr. Marshall said having the signs that post the national motto is vastly important after September 11.

A Senate committee killed legislation that would have allowed Virginians to express their opposition to the death penalty with a registry maintained by the Virginia Supreme Court.
Mr. Barry's bill said that should those registered be murdered, their killers would be ineligible for execution. However, the death penalty opponent would have to turn over his or her estate to the Virginia Board of Corrections to defray the cost of the killer's imprisonment.
The Courts of Justice Committee unanimously rejected the bill.
"That's the first time I've ever gotten a unanimous vote out of that committee," Mr. Barry said.
Mr. Barry, a death penalty supporter, said he offered the bill to give opponents an alternative to trying to abolish capital punishment. No other state has such a law, said Richard Dieter, director of the Death Penalty Information Center.
This article is based on wire service reports.


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