A Colorado high school principal is defending his decision to allow students from a cultural club to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in Arabic — and denied that it was attempt to push an Islamic agenda.
Tom Lopez, the principal at Rocky Mountain High School in Fort Collins, told Fox News he has received a number of telephone calls and emails from outraged parents – but he stands by his decision.
“These students love this country,” he said. “They were not being un-American in trying to do this. They believed they were accentuating the meaning of the words as spoken regularly in English.”
The school recites the Pledge of Allegiance once a week and on Monday a member of the Cultural Arms Club led the student body in the Arabic version of the pledge.
The club seeks to “destroy the barriers, embrace the cultures” that exist within the high school.
Danielle Clark, communications director of the Poudre School District, said they understand why parents are upset.
“We understand not everybody would agree with the students’ choice,” she told Fox News. “We’ve heard there are some who are upset.”
On the other hand, she said she received one email from a person who “thought it was a great thing.”
Clark said the cultural club has a history of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in a number of different languages.
“It’s not just Arabic,” she said.
Last year, the group found itself in a firestorm of controversy after reciting the pledge in Spanish.
“This is a student-initiated and student-led club,” Clark said. “There is no school sponsor or advisor. It doesn’t come under the umbrella of the district.”
She said the students simply asked the principal permission as a courtesy.
“We deferred to the students because it’s their deal,” she said.
Club members said they don’t understand why there’s a controversy.
“No matter what language it’s said in, pledging your allegiance to the United States is the same in every language,” student Skyler Bowden told The Coloradoan.
But an Arabic translation of the Pledge of Allegiance would have replaced “one nation under God” with “one nation under Allah.”
“Obviously in Arabic, you would use the word Allah, but Christian Arabs would use the word Allah,” said Ibrahim Hooper, of the Council on American Islamic Relations. “It’s not necessarily specific to Islam and Muslims.”
Clark said she did not hear the pledge and does not speak Arabic so she could not confirm exactly what words were used.
Some local residents said the pledge should be recited in English. Others wondered if there was another reason involved.
“This is no longer about language,” wrote one reader in a letter to the local newspaper. “This is about targeting a group you know will object, intentionally stirring them up under the guise of your opinions on multiculturalism and subjecting your school and community to a divisive issue for absolutely no gain.”
Lopez said he’s been getting bombarded by all sorts of accusations – one critic even labeled him a traitor.
“They claim they are outraged that this is blaspheming a real major tenet of our patriotism – which in their mind the Pledge of Allegiance is only in English,” he said.
He’s also been accused of “pushing a Muslim Brotherhood agenda – to push Islam into the school.” That’s a claim that Lopez denied.
Hooper told Fox News he was dumbfounded by complaints about the Arabic version of the pledge.
“How on earth is it un-American to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in another language,” Hooper asked. “It doesn’t make sense unless the people complaining are anti-Muslim or anti-middle eastern bigots.”
Principal Lopez said he was getting “worn down” by the complaints and the sense of “hate” among some of the critics.
“I’ve been shocked with prejudicial statements that have been made,” he said. ” I’ve been shocked with the lack of seeking understanding. There’s definitely suspicion and fear expressed in these people’s minds. There’s some hate.”
But some residents say they feel strongly that the Pledge should be recited in English.
“As a veteran and a friend of a man killed defending these children in their little games they like to play with our pledge, I’m offended,” wrote Chris Wells on the Daily Coloradoan. “There are things that we don’t mess with – among them are the pledge and our anthem.”
“If they wish to adapt the country as their own, then they need to learn the language and start speaking it as their first language,” wrote another reader.
Hooper suggested the students could use the incident as a learning “opportunity that there is real intolerance and bigotry out there.”