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Source: Reuters
Date: November 9, 2006
Byline: Dan Whitcomb

Students at Calif. College ban Pledge of Allegiance

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) — Student leaders at a California college have touched off a furor by banning the Pledge of Allegiance at their meetings, saying they see no reason to publicly swear loyalty to God and the U.S. government.

The move by Orange Coast College student trustees, the latest clash over patriotism and religion in American schools, has infuriated some of their classmates — prompting one young woman to loudly recite the pledge in front of the board on Wednesday night in defiance of the rule.

"America is the one thing I'm passionate about and I can't let them take that away from me," 18-year-old political science major Christine Zoldos told Reuters.

"The fact that they have enough power to ban one of the most valued traditions in America is just horrible," Zoldos said, adding she would attend every board meeting to salute the flag.

The move was lead by three recently elected student trustees, who ran for office wearing revolutionary-style berets and said they do not believe in publicly swearing an oath to the American flag and government at their school. One student trustee voted against the measure, which does not apply to other student groups or campus meetings.

The ban follows a 2002 ruling by a federal appeals court in San Francisco that said forcing school children to recite the pledge was unconstitutional because of the phrase "under God." The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the ruling on procedural grounds but left the door open for another challenge.

"That ('under God') part is sort of offensive to me," student trustee Jason Bell, who proposed the ban, told Reuters. "I am an atheist and a socialist, and if you know your history, you know that 'under God' was inserted during the McCarthy era and was directly designed to destroy my ideology."

Bell said the ban largely came about because the trustees didn't want to publicly vow loyalty to the American government before their meetings. "Loyalty ought to be something the government earns through performance, not through reciting a pledge," he said.

Martha Parham, a spokeswoman for the Coast Community College District, said her office had no standing on the student board and took no position on the flag salute ban.

"If their personal belief is that they don't want to say the Pledge of Allegiance, the district certainly isn't going to dictate what they do," she said.

More than 28,000 students attend the community college, located in conservative Orange County, California, south of Los Angeles.

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