News

Schools carry on with Pledge of Allegiance

State law overrides court ruling so far

By PAT JENKINS

Editor

It was business as usual at two summertime public schools in Federal Way this week despite a federal court ruling Wednesday that reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in public-funded classrooms is unconstitutional.

Local and state school officials said Thursday that the pledge would remain a part of the school day, as required by Washington law.

Officials are reviewing the ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In a 2 to 1 decision, the court’s justices found the words "under God" in the pledge to be the same as a government endorsement of religion, and thereby a violation of the First Amendment.

The ruling is based on a case filed against the United States, Congress, the state of California and two California school districts by an atheist whose daughter attends public school in California.

The ruling may conflict with Washington law, which requires the Pledge of Allegiance in each classroom at the beginning of school days in public schools statewide.

Until that law changes, the pledge should continue at all 206 school districts in Washington, said state Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson.

At Truman High School and Sunnycrest Elementary School, whose schedules have them operating during the summer, the pledge was recited as normal the day after the court ruling. That will remain the practice districtwide while “greater legal minds than ours” decide whether the ruling will stand, said Mark Davidson, assistant superintendent of Federal Way Public Schools.

“It’s very clear to us that this issue will go through some more work before it’s finished,” Davidson said. “It appears the court’s intent is for this to go through the process.”

He said if a final ruling did eliminate the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools, the district would abide, both as a matter of law and as an example for students.

“We’d say we have to follow the law. That’s a message we always give our students,” Davidson said.

He noted the district has been responsive in past issues related to religion, including when changes were made in baccalaureate services for graduating high schoolers.

The Washington Education Association, the statewide teachers’ union based in Federal Way, is also waiting for further legal discussion of the pledge debate. In the meantime, “we’ll continue to advocate and be respectful of religious differences and beliefs,” said spokeswoman Debra Cairnes.

Along with Washington, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals covers Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada and Oregon. They are the only states affected by this week’s ruling. The decision is not scheduled to take effect for several months, and may be delayed if appeals are filed.

"Since it appears we have a grace period on this, I will be advising schools to continue opening the school day the way it has started for the last 87 years in our state,” said Bergeson. “My assumption is this will be appealed, and I hope it is appealed quickly so as not to disrupt the start of the (2002-03) school year next fall."

Editor Pat Jenkins can be reached at 925-5565 and editor@fedwaymirror.com

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