At first, Dennis Fiorentinos thought someone at his Northern California high school’s rally Jan. 19 had made a mistake.
“The rally started and it got going and I realized there was no national anthem,” Fiorentinos, 18, told KGO. When he inquired, Fiorentinos learned the student government at California High School in San Ramon had banned the anthem.
In a letter Friday to the school newspaper, Ariyana Kermanizadeh, president of the Associated Student Body, cited the “outdated and racially insensitive” third verse of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
The third verse, which is not normally performed in modern times, reads, “No refuge could save the hireling and slave, From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave, And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave, O’er the land of the free and home of the brave.”
“This verse translated, finds joy in the killing of African-Americans,” Kermanizadeh wrote. “To think that our nation’s anthem once had the word slave and ‘land of the free’ in the same sentence leaves me speechless.”
Kermanizadeh argued that it does not matter whether the third verse is performed or not, calling the decision a question of inclusiveness. “As our culture shifts to one that is more diverse and accepting of all types of people, so must our traditions,” she wrote.
The student government understands that some people might object to the removal of the anthem but does not intend to change its position, Kermanizadeh wrote.
Elizabeth Graswich, director of communications for the San Ramon Valley Unified School District, wrote in an email to The San Francisco Chronicle that such decisions are up to the student body at each campus.
“The students made their decision after learning that the third verse is seen as offensive to some groups,” Graswich wrote. “The ASB is committed to creating a school culture that is welcoming to all students.”
Fiorentinos told the Chronicle that, while he disagrees with banning the anthem, he respects the decision.
“Like the freedom to choose not play the anthem, it’s those freedoms that we owe much to men and women who died protecting them,” he said.