McKinley will
erase ‘God’ pledge

By Mary Adamski

McKinley High School will expunge its long-standing Code of Honor containing an affirmation of "love of God" from handbooks, classroom posters, its Web site and future ceremonies.

Only the original 1927 plaque will remain on display among school artifacts in the Hall of Honor under a settlement announced yesterday in U.S. District Court by the state Attorney General's Office and the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii.

The ACLU represented a McKinley student in a lawsuit claiming the reference to God was unconstitutional because it was government endorsement of religion.

A lawsuit challenged McKinley High School's Code of Honor, which refers to "Love for God." Mun Chee Chun, now 93 years old, wrote the code in 1927.

"This is a compromise, not a loss," said Deputy Attorney General Russell Suzuki. "It attempts to balance all views. From our prospective, we have kept the code intact. It will not be changed and can still be displayed.

"Students will be able to recite it as a student-initiated action," Suzuki pointed out, but the agreement specifically spells out that "school officials will not support, endorse or encourage the recitation or singing of the 1927 Code of Honor at official school functions."

Brent White, ACLU legal director, said: "The settlement reaffirms that a public school has no business telling students what they should or should not believe in relation to God. The problem arose when the school dug up this code in the 1990s and decided to promote it as the official school code of honor. The code is simply not appropriate as an official school code in today's multireligious, multicultural society."

Suzuki said, "We live in a different time from when the code was written."

The state Department of Education initially balked at removing the code from classrooms and the handbook based on an attorney general opinion that it was acceptable because it was not a prayer.

"We are very pleased," said Mitchell Kahle, president of Hawaii Citizens for Separation of State and Church, who raised the issue a year ago. A teacher made the initial complaint, he said, but "declined to be the plaintiff for fear of losing the job."

The ACLU filed suit in July on behalf of student James Ornellas, now a junior, who said then he was not sure if God exists and that the school shouldn't tell people to love God.

The code read, in part, "As a student of McKinley, I stand for ... love for God and all mankind."

Retired University of Hawaii religion professor Alfred Bloom said: "The implication is that to be a good citizen, you have to believe in God. As a Buddhist, I could see problems with that. It enforces a religious perspective as to what belief a proper citizen must have, so that an atheist or a Buddhist could not measure up.

"The historical, cultural implication that term usually carries with it is a Christian God," Bloom said.

He cited a parallel in the aftermath of the Japan attack on Pearl Harbor: "The government took control of temples with the implication that you couldn't be a Buddhist and be a good citizen. I think the wartime sacrifices of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and 100th Infantry Battalion are an indication that one does not have to believe in God to be a good citizen," he said.

Members of Hawaii's largest Buddhist denomination underscored that point in September when they voted to ask the government to restore the original text of the Pledge of Allegiance, minus a reference to God. The Hawaii State Federation of Honpa Hongwanji Lay Associations endorsed the finding by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the phrase "under God" in the pledge is an unconstitutional endorsement of monotheism. The court put the 2-1 decision on hold pending appeal.

American Civil Liberties Union
Attorney General's Office
McKinley High School

E-mail to City Desk


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