- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 19, 2004

SPOTSYLVANIA, Va. (AP) — A middle school student’s objection to standing during the Pledge of Allegiance is sparking change in Spotsylvania County’s schools.

At the start of each school day, all students stand facing the flag with their right hands over their hearts during the pledge. Students can choose not to recite it if they or their parents object on religious, philosophical or other grounds, which is consistent with state law.

But Virginia also allows students to quietly and respectfully sit at their desks while others stand and say the pledge. Spotsylvania’s policy says nothing about letting students sit during the pledge.

A seventh-grader at Ni River Middle School objected to the requirement that he stand during the pledge, contending it violated his freedom of speech, Principal Stephen Covert said.

Mr. Covert said the student’s complaint occurred several weeks ago. He said the boy has been allowed to sit during the pledge.

The school board’s attorney advised Superintendent Jerry Hill that Spotsylvania’s policy violates state law because it doesn’t allow students to sit through the pledge.

At a school board meeting this month, Spotsylvania school officials recommended that the board bring its policy in line with state code by allowing students who object to sit during the pledge. The board approved the change with a 6-1 vote. The policy won’t officially change until the board votes again at its Jan. 10 meeting.

Ray Lora cast the dissenting vote and at first asked the board to table the motion. When that failed, he gave a passionate plea about the value of the pledge in an age when U.S. military troops face constant danger.

“How can a red-blooded American not want to pledge allegiance to the flag?” Mr. Lora asked.

Mr. Hill said the huge majority of students have no problem with standing and reciting the pledge, but he said Spotsylvania needs to comply with the state code and “protect those individuals who disagree” with being forced to stand for the pledge.

This isn’t the first time the Pledge of Allegiance has caused controversy in public schools.

Written in 1892, the pledge initially made no reference to religion.

But the U.S. Congress, in the midst of a Cold War standoff with the Soviet Union, added the phrase “under God” in 1954.

In 2002, an atheist Californian sued his third-grade daughter’s school district.

The man argued that requiring the pledge violates the separation of church and state.

A federal appeals court agreed with plaintiff Michael Newdow in June 2002.

But the U.S. Supreme Court reversed that ruling last summer.

In 2001, the Virginia General Assembly mandated that public school districts require the pledge daily.

It’s been policy in Spotsylvania since July 1, 2002. Before that, teachers could choose to lead the pledge.

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