A school in New York state has apologised after receiving complaints because a student recited the US Pledge of Allegiance in Arabic.
The school’s foreign language department arranged for the pledge to be read in a different language each day for a week.
Complaints were received from people who lost family in Afghanistan (where Arabic is not widely spoken) and from Jewish parents, an official said.
The school district superintendant, Joan Carbone, said that the Arabic pledge had “divided the school in half” and that she had received numerous complaints.
A statement from the district apologised “to any students, staff or community members who found this activity disrespectful” and said the reading was intended to “promote the fact that those who speak a language other than English still pledge to salute this great country”.
An Arabic-speaking student read the pledge during morning announcements at Pine Bush High School in Pine Bush, New York, on Wednesday.
Many students reportedly shouted their disapproval during the recitation, and later complained on social media.
Later in the afternoon, the school’s principal made a school-wide announcement to explain why the pledge was read in Arabic and to apologise to those who took offence. Ms Carbone said the pledge would only be read in English in the future.
The school’s student leader, Andrew Zink, who is in charge of the morning announcements, told US media that he knew the reading would attract controversy. He permitted it to go forward, because he believed it was “the right thing to do”.
“What makes you American is not the language you speak, but the ideas you believe in,” he said.
Meanwhile, the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-NY) questioned the justification offered for the apology.
“The meaning of the Pledge of Allegiance is the same regardless of the language in which it’s recited,” said CAIR-NY Spokeswoman Sadyia Khalique. “When a simple student activity designed to promote mutual understanding receives such a negative reaction and the school in which it takes place is forced to issue a public apology, all Americans who value our nation’s history of religious and ethnic diversity should be concerned. One has to wonder if such an intolerant response would have resulted from reading the pledge in a language other than Arabic.”
In 2013, when students in a multicultural club at Rocky Mountain High School in Colorado translated the Pledge of Allegiance into Arabic and recited it for the student body, it generated hate calls and threats from parents. Translations of the pledge into French and Spanish had previously been recited to students without incident.