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Out, Damned Comma! Out, I Say!

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Nearly everyone in America recites the pledge of allegiance incorrectly, according to state education officials in Louisiana.

In a recent letter to the state's 1,500 school principals, department officials pointed out that there is no comma between "one nation" and "under God." Thus, when reciting the pledge, students should not pause between the two phrases, the letter stated.

"As a school principal, you are in a unique position to provide the leadership to assure that the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag is recited correctly," the officials wrote.

John Bertrand, a member of the Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, said he brought the issue to the board after the comma problem was noted at a Kiwanis club meeting he attended several years ago.

"Someone pointed out that there is no comma in the pledge where most people say it," he said. Mr. Bertrand added that as a board member he felt he should "bring this up to the whole state."

The board adopted a resolution last spring requiring the education department to "inform and instruct all local school systems in the proper method of reciting" the pledge. The memo issued to principals early last month was the department's response to that resolution, said P. Edward Cancienne, director of secondary education.

But according to Robert Hogan, director of member services for the National Council of Teachers of English, either recitation style is correct, depending on your opinion.

"The question is whether 'under God' is restrictive," he said. "If you think it is restrictive, then you probably would not use the comma. But if you think 'under God' is just one way of describing the nation, then you would include the comma."

Mr. Hogan speculated, however, that the interest in making sure the comma is deleted is more of an "idealogical" issue than one of linguistics.

"It really has to do with the First Amendment and the separation of church and state," he said. According to Mr. Hogan, removing the comma "marries" the phrases "one nation" and "under God."

"The founding fathers," he maintained, "would argue that the comma belongs there."

A 1954 act of Congress added the words "under God" to the pledge. According to a librarian at the Library of Congress, lawmakers did not include a comma when the phrase was added.

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