With liberty and justice for all

Zahra Haque

In honor of National Foreign Language Week, Pine Bush High School in New York state arranged  to have the Pledge of Allegiance recited in a different language every day of the week. On the morning of March 18, after the pledge was recited in Arabic, many students, parents and town residents were outraged. They decried the pledge being recited in a language other than English. The widespread contempt toward the recital reveals a xenophobic sentiment that is still deeply entrenched in
American society.

In a CNN poll, two-thirds of white Americans expressed a belief that immigrants should sacrifice major aspects of their cultures in order to “blend in.” Immigration rhetoric that prioritizes assimilation over the integration of cultural differences diminishes the value of diversity. This rhetoric manifests itself in expressions of intolerance, like what occurred in Pine Bush High School. Following the controversial morning announcements at the school, many people commented that English is the United States’ only language, despite the fact that there is no official language, and more than 300 languages are spoken in the United States. Approximately 13 percent of Americans speak Spanish at home, and Arabic  is the fastest-growing language in the country. Multiculturalism is increasingly becoming a defining trait of the United States, and those who cannot come to terms with it are stuck in a regressive bubble.

As a result of the outrage, the school issued a public apology to those who found the pledge “disrespectful.” In addition, the recitals planned for the rest of the week — Japanese, Italian, French and Spanish — were canceled. That the school saw a need to revoke an admirable display of cultural tolerance reflects the disappointing state of conversation surrounding this topic today. It is problematic to call reading the pledge in a foreign language unpatriotic. For immigrants, it signifies a dichotomy between their American identity and their ethnic
heritage — a dichotomy that should not have to exist. Being American and also being French, Japanese or any other nationality is not
mutually exclusive.

Following the incident, New York State Department of Education spokesperson Dennis Tompkins affirmed that there is no restriction on the language in which the pledge is recited. This message, while heading in the right direction, resonates weakly in the public sphere. The department, as well as other New York politicians, could have taken a much stronger stance and used this moment to teach a valuable lesson on the importance of multiculturalism. It is a shame that the events of Pine Bush were met with silence, especially from the higher-ups from a state as diverse as New York. Citizens and politicians alike should embrace, rather than resent, the fact that the United States is a diverse entity.

Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them.

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, March 30 print edition. Email Zahra Haque at opinion@nyunews.com.



  1. It’s fine to be proud of your ethnicity, and we don’t all have to eat the same foods and dance the same dances. But there are some things we all must hold in common for our multiethnic, multiracial society to work, and one of the most important of these is a common language so that we can communicate with one another.

    Here’s my top-ten list of what we should expect from those who want to become Americans (and those who are already Americans, for that matter). The list was first published in a National Review Online column [link: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/378393/e-pluribus-unum-roger-clegg ], and it is fleshed out in Congressional testimony [link: http://www.aila.org/content/fileviewer.aspx?docid=23115&linkid=164788 ]:

    1. Don’t disparage anyone else’s race or ethnicity.
    2. Respect women.
    3. Learn to speak English.
    4. Be polite.
    5. Don’t break the law.
    6. Don’t have children out of wedlock.
    7. Don’t demand anything because of your race or ethnicity.
    8. Don’t view working and studying hard as “acting white.”
    9. Don’t hold historical grudges.
    10. Be proud of being an American.


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