Police in a Boston suburb are investigating threatening messages sent to members of the Arlington School Committee, following what school officials said were incorrect reports by Fox News that they had banned the Pledge of Allegiance in Arlington schools.
According to the Boston Globe, a police spokesperson described the messages as "offensive and hateful and potentially criminal" and said that some of them were anti-Semitic.
The Pledge hasn't been recited at Arlington High School in decades, although it is said voluntarily in the elementary and middle schools. When the school committee recently deadlocked on a student-led proposal to introduce a voluntary recitation in high school classes, Fox leaped on the controversy with a story headlined "School Officials in Mass. Town Won't Let Students Recite Pledge of Allegiance."
"It is unfortunate that the national media has chosen to distort this very serious debate in a manner which so badly misinforms the public," School Committee Chairman Joseph Curro stated in a press release. He told the Globe that the messages were coming from "all over the country." A few "included indirect threats and one said the members should go to North Korea, where their throats would be slit."
The controversy began when Arlington High School junior Sean Harrington presented the committee with a petition calling for the Pledge of Allegiance to be recited in every school. Harrington is an associate member of Arlington's Republican Town Committee and the founder of a high school Teenage Republican group. He refers to the Pledge emotionally as "a living and breathing statement that basically strengthens a bond a person has with their country" and says he has been called a "Nazi" and a "Fascist" by his fellow students for his beliefs.
At a school committee meeting last week, Harrington delivered what a story in the Arlington Patch described as "an impassioned speech ... reminding the members that 'freedom is not free.'" The committee ultimately deadlocked, however, on a proposal for a voluntary recitation of the Pledge to be led each day over the intercom, with some members expressing concerns about infringing on the rights of students and teachers who did not wish to participate.
"The exchange that followed the vote became quite heated," the Patch reports, "with Harrington's supporters vocalizing their disapproval and shouting expletives at the Committee."
"They told us to go back to our own countries," Chairman Curro told the Globe.
After the Patch account appeared, Fox News quickly seized on it with a nationally-broadcast radio interview of Harrington followed by a front-page story that has "garnered thousands of comments."
"When Sean Harrington entered his freshman year at Arlington High School, he noticed something peculiar," the Fox story began. "There were no American flags in the classrooms, and no one recited the Pledge of Allegiance."
"I was really heartbroken," Harrington said of the deadlocked vote. "It's hard to think that something so traditional in American society was turned down. ... It tells me that we've basically cast aside what our country is founded on."
Arlington High School's principal has since offered a compromise solution, whereby he would personally lead a recitation of the Pledge in the school lobby before classes each day for any student who wishes to participate, but Harrington has indicated that he would not find this satisfactory. The school committee will continue to wrestle with the issue over the summer.