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Furor Over Spanish Version Reopens Pledge Debate

Yet, over the years, often at the behest of veterans groups, the pledge was modified until the testament to international brotherhood became a nationalist oath of allegiance, historians said.

"Another great irony was Bellamy used a gesture originally used by ancient Rome and then the Nazis," Cloud said, describing the gesture as a motion that began with one hand over the heart and then extending the hand outward.

Mita Badshah, principal of Windsor Knolls Middle School, is shown at the school as students Danielle Conners, left, and Kayla Bender raise the flag. (Ricky Carioti -- The Washington Post)

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Richard J. Ellis, a professor of politics at Willamette University in Oregon whose book "To the Flag: The Unlikely History of the Pledge of Allegiance" will be published next month, said controversies over the pledge often coincide with the sort of rapid demographic change that has transformed the Washington region in recent years.

For example, the Census Bureau's 2003 estimates showed that Frederick County's Latino population has increased about 32 percent since 2000, after more than doubling in the years since 1990. In the Washington region, the overall minority population has grown to 2.49 million people, up 8 percent from 2000, when it was found to have increased 42 percent since 1990.

"I don't know of other controversies surrounding the translation of the Pledge," Ellis wrote in an e-mail. "But the controversy is certainly in keeping with the history of the Pledge of the Allegiance, which from the outset was steeped in fear of immigrants and an anxiety about their loyalties."

In Frederick County, the trouble began when Windsor Knolls Middle School began showing different classes reciting the pledge on the school's closed-circuit TV system. One was a Spanish class.

Tepper, 37, became angry when her 13-year-old daughter reported what happened.

"She said everyone stood around and looked at each other. Nobody knew what to do," Tepper said in an interview. "I said, 'If it happens again, you are to stand up and put your hand over your heart and say it in English.' She did, and she said the rest of her class started doing it in English."

Other parents also called the school and the school's Parent Teacher Student Association to complain.

"People were saying, 'This is not right. They shouldn't be doing this,' " said Brenda Swigart, the school's PTSA president.

In an interview last week, Tepper said she has no anxiety about immigration or cultural change.

"In my opinion -- and I've been criticized for this -- the Pledge of Allegiance is a sacred oath to Americans. Why should it be okay to translate it into another language where it loses its meaning?" she said. "Our government is in English. Our laws are in English. It is the predominant language, and it should be the national language."

Principal Mita Badshah, who came to the United States from India when she was 8 years old, said she saw nothing wrong with pledging allegiance in another language. But Badshah said she also wanted to keep the peace and honor the community's sensibilities.

"Certainly, I don't want to model intolerance and say I'm for diversity," she said. "Let's look for a win-win. I think that's what makes this country great -- the right to agree to disagree."

Staff researcher Magna Jean-Louis contributed to this report.

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