WASHINGTON – Maryland school officials are being urged to consider a call for a nationwide Pledge of Allegiance Friday, joining as many as 100,000 schools across the nation in what may be the biggest synchronized chorus of the pledge ever.
U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige will lead the nationwide pledge, which will synchronized across time zones. It is scheduled to begin in Maryland at 2 p.m., for example, the same moment that schoolchildren in Hawaii are reciting the pledge at 8 a.m. their time.
Even groups that usually oppose such displays of patriotism said they can live with Friday’s mass pledge because it is voluntary.
“Secretary Paige makes clear that participation in the pledge is voluntary — which is exactly what we would expect in an event designed to teach schoolchildren about the foundations of our free society,” said Emily Whitfield, a spokeswoman for the American Civil Liberties Union.
Paige sent a letter Tuesday to principals across the nation encouraging “students, teachers parents and other proud Americans across the country to join me in showing our patriotism by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance at a single time and with a unified voice this Friday.”
The pledge drive was organized by Celebration USA, a nonprofit organization that teaches democracy and promotes patriotism.
The Maryland State Department of Education followed Thursday with an e- mail to county school superintendents from Superintendent Nancy Grasmick’s office, encouraging the counties to review Paige’s letter. It said county superintendents should “make a local determination on participating as appropriate.”
It is unclear how many schools will participate, but calls to about 20 schools in the Washington suburbs Thursday found every one of them ready to pledge.
“I think it is good way for students to feel unified,” said Sandra S. Walker, principal of Rock Creek Forest Elementary School in Chevy Chase.
Walker said that many students are still fearful after the events of Sept. 11 and she is concerned that the pledge may remind them of the terrorist attacks. But, she said, she also welcomes events like the nationwide pledge, which can help students celebrate patriotism and feel as if they are a part of something larger.
Maryland law requires that counties “prepare a program for each public school classroom for the beginning of each school day that provides for the salute to the flag and other patriotic exercises that are approved by the United States government.” But students may refuse to participate if they have ideological or religious reservations about pledging allegiance to the flag.
ACLU officials said they would only be concerned with Friday’s mass pledge if there were no protections for students who refrain for religious or personal reasons.
Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, are taught to pledge to God, and not a flag. But a spokeswoman from Cedonia Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Baltimore said that children who are Jehovah’s Witnesses may stand up Friday in respect for the flag, but will refrain from the salute.