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CK schools officials ponder Pledge of Allegiance ruling

Well, they did it anyway.

The CK School Board stood and recited the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of its regular Wednesday, June 26, meeting — including the now controversial phrase “one nation under God” — as did the dozen or so people in attendance.

The board starts every meeting that way. School classrooms in the district start every morning that way. (Regular classes are on summer break, but summer school starts July 15, and, presumably, those classes will begin with the pledge.)

“California has decided the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional,” said CK Schools Director of Operations Dirk Gleysteen at the board meeting. He was referring to the decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco earlier that day to prohibit the Pledge with its “one nation under God” phrase as an illegal mix of church and state. “The federal court system is regional, and we’re (Washington) in the Ninth Circuit ... so whatever it decides will be binding on us, too.”

The three-member judges panel of the appeals court ruled 2-1 against public schools reciting the Pledge. An 11-member appeals court may also examine the issue. In any case, it’s expected the ruling won’t take effect for months, to allow appeals. So, CK Board members were not breaking the law — yet.

“We’re caught between the court and our district’s policy to recite the Pledge,” said Gleysteen. The state also says school days and school events should begin with the Pledge.

After Wednesday’s meeting, board member Christy Cathcart said “Speaking for myself, I hope we stay the way things are now” with the pledge left as is. If nothing else, she added, the controversy is “a wonderful civics lesson.”

Chris Stokke, school board vice president, said “I think students have the right to say the Pledge just the way it is. If a person doesn’t want to say it, they don’t have to. It’s a personal choice.”

Carl Johnson, another board member, said “The Ninth Circuit Court is probably the most liberal in the country. So it didn’t surprise me.... I imagine it’ll be reversed.”

The silver lining, if there is one, is that the issue is so controversial, it gets people involved politically, he said.

Gov. Gary Locke immediately issued a terse statement dismissing the ruling.

“The Pledge of Allegiance is an important part of our American heritage,” he said in a message faxed and e-mailed to newspapers statewide. “Current state law allows students to remain silent during the Pledge of Allegiance, if they choose, for whatever reason. This voluntary approach respects the richness and diversity of beliefs in our state, so the federal appeals court decision is not necessary.”

The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and the state Attorney General’s office are reviewing the ruling, which came out of a two-year court battle by an Elk Grove, Calif., atheistic parent who objected to his daughter listening to the Pledge at school.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals includes California, Washington, Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada and Oregon.

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