When Andrew Zink passed the microphone over to his classmate and allowed her to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in Arabic, he said, he knew most students wouldn’t support his decision.
As president of the student senate at Pine Bush High School in New York, Zink leads the pledge every morning. But on Wednesday, a teacher asked him if he would mind if a classmate did it instead. It was National Foreign Language Week, and the students were encouraged to learn about different cultures.
“I wanted to say yes because I felt this is the right thing to do,” Zink, 18, said in an interview Thursday with the Los Angeles Times.
Outrage quickly flowed throughout the campus, about 75 miles north of New York City. The principal apologized to the school later that day, Zink said, for allowing the Pledge of Allegiance to be recited in a different language.
But the apology did little to quell student and parent anger.
“The anti-Muslim sentiment started to build,” Zink said. “The poor girl who read it, she’s so sweet and when she finished reading it people called her a terrorist. They told her to go back to the Middle East. They mercilessly degraded her and I felt awful for her.”
Zink didn’t get by unscathed either. He said he was threatened over Twitter and received death threats.
“Some people said they didn’t want to look at me ever again,” he said.
The Pine Bush Central School District also apologized for allowing the pledge in Arabic, following complaints from Jewish parents and residents who lost family members in the Afghanistan war.
National Foreign Language Week was meant to “promote the fact that those who speak a language other than English still pledge to salute this great country,” officials said in a statement on Thursday.
The school had planned to say the pledge in French, Spanish, Italian and Japanese as well, but it will now be recited in English only.
District Superintendent Joan Carbone did not return request for comment, but told the Times Herald-Record the pledge has “divided the school in half.”
Zink said he is no longer allowed to lead the Pledge of Allegiance, and may be impeached from his post as senior class president.
“There are consequences, but to be honest, I would do it again because I believe what I did was right,” he said.
Here's a look at what people have been saying about the controversy on Twitter:
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