Jan 27, 2013 No Comments ›› Chuck Biscuits
Excerpted from The Arizona Republic: Two state representatives have proposed bills requiring Arizona students to show more respect for their country in a move that is stirring constitutional arguments and a threat of lawsuits.
All public high-school seniors would have to recite an oath supporting the U.S. Constitution to be able to graduate, under a proposal in House Bill 2467 sponsored by Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff.
And all students in first through 12th grades would have to say the pledge of allegiance each day if House Bill 2284, sponsored by Rep. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, passes.
Under current law, schools must set aside time for the pledge each day, but students may choose whether to participate.
Political insiders say it is too early in the session, which began Jan. 14, to predict where the new Legislature may land on such issues.
While both the House and Senate have more Democrats this year, diluting the power of “tea party” Republicans who promote patriotic issues, the GOP still maintains control of both chambers.
Smith, a self-proclaimed member of the tea party with a history of sponsoring anti-illegal-immigration measures, said he introduced the legislation in response to a Maricopa high-school student who last year reported feeling mocked and embarrassed after she was the only one in her class to stand and say the pledge.
“Is this bill going to move heaven and Earth? No,” Smith said. “But it’s important that our kids do this.”
Since filing his bill, Thorpe is having second thoughts about the reach of his proposal and concerns about reaction from students, and says he is planning to amend his oath bill to make it optional and not mandatory.
“Since developing this idea, it has continued to evolve,” the freshman lawmaker said via e-mail. “In that we had a tight deadline for dropping our bills, I was not able to update the language.”
He said his decision to amend the bill is not due to any concerns about its legality.
“Even though I want to encourage all of our students to understand and respect our Constitution and constitutional form of government, I do not want to create a requirement that students or parents may feel uncomfortable with,” he said. “Being a father of two, I also realistically understand that some students will embrace this more than others.”
But he said he continues to support the underlying idea.
“Constitutional oaths are common for elected officials and government employees, including the governor, the Legislature and members of our law enforcement and our military,” he said.
“It is my hope that if Arizona students are given the opportunity to also take a simple, Constitutional oath, that this will inspire them to learn more about our Constitutional form of government and the rich history of our nation and founding.”
Both bills, if they were to become law in their current form, would face legal challenges.
“Both bills are clearly unconstitutional, ironically enough,” said American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona Public Policy Director Anjali Abraham. “You can’t require students to attend school … and then require them to either pledge allegiance to the flag or swear this loyalty oath in order to graduate. It’s a violation of the First Amendment.”
If the Legislature passes the bills and Gov. Jan Brewer signs them into law, Abraham predicts the courts will overturn the laws. She said there is legal case precedent that clearly deems such acts unconstitutional.
“It’s a waste of time and resources for the taxpayers,” she said.
Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, called the bills “ridiculous.”
“These legislators who believe they are teaching the Constitution to students are not following the Constitution themselves when they introduce bills that are unconstitutional,” he said.