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Call to halt Pledge of Allegiance in Brookline schools goes to Town Meeting

By Brock Parker
Town Correspondent / September 7, 2011

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Saying the Pledge of Allegiance has no educational value, a progressive activist group is pushing for Brookline to stop recitations of the pledge in public schools.

Members of Brookline PAX are asking Town Meeting this fall to vote in favor of a resolution calling for the town’s School Committee to rescind its pledge policy and stop it from being recited in the schools.

Martin Rosenthal, the co-chair of Brookline Pax, said that though the recitation of the pledge is voluntary, there is subtle and sometimes overt pressure on students, especially younger children, to participate, which he said makes his “skin crawl.”

“It just puts kids in an uncomfortable situation,” Rosenthal said. “How do you say that to a 6-year-old. …We just don’t think it belongs in the schools.”

The article Brookline Pax submitted for Brookline’s Town Meeting comes just months after the town’s School Committee approved a revised policy requiring principals to allow a weekly recitation of the pledge during morning announcements. Participation in the recitations is left up to the individuals at the schools.

School Committee Chairwoman Rebecca Stone said the new policy was approved in the spring after discussion began over saying the pledge at the Devotion School, where recitations were not a regular occurrence. While weekly recitations of the pledge had been held at most Brookline Kindergarten through 8th grade schools, the pledge also wasn’t said regularly at the Lincoln School.

While opponents to the School Committee’s new policy, such as Rosenthal, have said the recitations have no educational value, Stone said it has been a historical practice to say the pledge.

“I agree with (Rosenthal) that it’s not of great educational value,” Stone said. “We’re recognizing established and in some cases revered practices of the citizenry. There is something to that in the public schools.”

Rosenthal, who has a daughter at Brookline High School, called the pledge a loyalty oath loaded with complex issues such as justice, liberty and religion, in the phrase “under God.”

“What does it say about being a citizen in a democracy?” he said. “Are you supposed to just say something like this or are you supposed to think about it?”

This isn’t the first proposal concerning the pledge Rosenthal has brought to Town Meeting. When an effort began in 1984 to say the pledge and sing the national anthem at the opening of Brookline’s Town Meeting, he led a victorious effort against saying the pledge. Rosenthal said that effort garnered national media attention and came back up at Brookline’s Town Meeting repeatedly for 8 or 9 years. Each time, he said the majority of the Town Meeting members opted against reciting the pledge before their meetings.

This fall, if Brookline’s Town Meeting does not want to halt recitations of the pledge in the schools, Rosenthal said he’s hoping a majority of the members will vote in support of a resolution asking the School Committee to limit the voluntary recitations to periodic group assemblies.

Stone said that if the PAX resolution is approved by Town Meeting and a majority of the School Committee wishes to revisit the topic, they would. But with other important issues to address, Stone said she doesn’t believe the Committee intends to reconsider the policy.

“I don’t anticipate that will be the case,” she said.