With a line of military service in his family dating to the War of 1812, Sean Harrington sees the Pledge of Allegiance as something he owes to the men and women who have died fighting for this country.“It’s a living and breathing statement that basically strengthens a bond a person has with their country,’’ said the 17-year-old Arlington High School student.
But Harrington’s fight to persuade Arlington officials to require the pledge be led in every school has been a frustrating lesson in freedom of speech.
Last week, Harrington, a senior, presented the Arlington School Committee with a petition, signed by more than 700 people, to require that the pledge be led in all the town’s schools each day. The committee deadlocked, 3 to 3, on a motion that would have required a daily, but voluntary, recitation of the pledge to be led over the intercom.
Yesterday, after a week of controversy in town, a compromise surfaced: The Arlington High principal said he’d lead the pledge in the lobby of Arlington High School every morning five minutes before school begins. Principal Charles Skidmore said anyone who wishes to say the pledge can do so in the lobby, and he believes the plan is a good compromise to Harrington’s proposal.
But Harrington, who wanted the pledge said in all of the schools, said the pledge belongs in the classroom, and he does not believe the principal’s idea of saying it before school in the lobby would work among students, who would then have to hurry to class.
Harrington, an associate member of Arlington’s Republican Town Committee and founder of the high school’s Teenage Republican group, said he “teared up’’ when his proposal failed.
Joseph Curro, School Committee chairman, who voted in favor of voluntary recitation of the pledge, said some members in the audience taunted the deadlocked committee.
“They told us to go back to our own countries,’’ Curro said.
Judson Pierce, a School Committee member, who voted against the proposal, said that while he honors the pledge, he wants to do more research into state and federal laws before passing a policy for the district. He wants to be sure that the rights of those who do not want to say the pledge are protected.
State law requires that teachers lead their classes in the Pledge of Allegiance each day, bit the state Supreme Judicial Court issued an opinion in 1977 saying that it would be unconstitutional to discipline a teacher or student who chose not to say the pledge. The US Supreme Court has also said that making students recite the pledge is contrary to the First Amendment.
But students and teachers should still be given the opportunity to say the pledge, said JC Considine, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.Continued…