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Wisconsin School Board Slammed for Barring Pledge of Allegiance

The Madison, Wisconsin, school board has been ridiculed and swamped with e-mail and calls after barring the Pledge of Allegiance and deciding "The Star-Spangled Banner" should be played without its martial lyrics.

Board member Bill Keys said the board was simply trying to comply with a new state law and protect the rights of students who didn't want to feel compelled to recite their loyalty to "one nation, under God." 

Gov. Scott McCallum called the board "oddballs," while a Republican lawmaker proposed cutting state funding. Parents and others have denounced the action taken earlier this week as unpatriotic, especially with the country at war against terrorism. 

"Given the condition of the world right now, I don't really see anything wrong with promoting allegiance to your country or patriotism," said Beth Dawson, who has two children in Madison elementary schools. 

Spokesman Joe Quick said the school system had received more than 16,000 e-mails and 1,000 phone calls by Thursday afternoon — almost all of them criticizing the board's decision. 

Madison is Wisconsin's second-largest school system, with 25,000 students. 

The state budget passed this summer contained a provision requiring all public schools to give all students the opportunity to sing the national anthem or recite the Pledge of Allegiance each day. The law said students could not be compelled to participate. 

Madison Superintendent Art Rainwater initially allowed each school to choose between the pledge and the anthem. But some teachers and parents complained that children who did not believe in the pledge would feel pressured to recite it. 

The board voted 3-2 Monday to allow only the playing of the national anthem to comply with the law — and only without the words, which some parents complained were too militaristic. 

The next day, President Calvin Williams said the board would reconsider its decision at a meeting next week. 

Quick also said the district will participate in a nationwide event Friday in which all public and private schools have been asked to simultaneously recite the pledge. 

Michael Sui, a 16-year-old sophomore at Madison West High School, said he thought the new state law was flawed and forced students to make a political statement to their peers. 

"If we sit down or stand up during the pledge or national anthem, that's making a statement," Sui said. "Because we're a multicultural school, it makes the kids who do or don't do it feel awkward."