BY: ISABELA GAMEZ/UA DON BOLLES FELLOW
A bill that critics say violates students’ constitutional rights by forcing them to recite the Pledge of Allegiance has continued to make its way toward becoming law.
The bill from Rep. Barbara Parker, R-Mesa, requires that school districts and charter schools set aside a specific time each day for K-12 students to recite the pledge of allegiance. Every Arizona student would be mandated to recite the pledge during this time, unless they have written permission from their parents or if they are 18.
“Although it is true that this bill would not be forcing students to practice religion in a form of prayer, it would enforce compulsory speech and would require students to say ‘under God’ by mandating them to pledge allegiance to the flag without their choice or consent,” Elijah Watson, a member of student coalition Keep Arizona Blue, told lawmakers on the Senate Education Committee during a March 22 hearing.
Watson also noted that the bill doesn’t include any penalties, leaving an open question as to what would happen to a student, teacher or school that refuses to participate.
And critics said the bill would also override decades of U.S. Supreme Court precedent saying that students have a First Amendment right not to stand or participate in the Pledge of Allegiance or in other religious actions.
In 1943, the court ruled that compelling children to say the Pledge of Allegiance was unconstitutional and violated freedom of speech and religion.
But Parker said that ruling is “completely obsolete and doesn’t apply.”
If it becomes law, Parker’s House Bill 2523 would likely result in schools being sued for enforcing the pledge requirement, Rep. Judy Schwiebert, D-Phoenix, said when the bill was considered by the House Education Committee in February.
State law already indicates that a school district or charter school must display a United States flag in every classroom, as well as set aside a specific time each day for students who wish to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
“Parents come to us as legislators and say, ‘I want schools where the pledge is said.’ Sadly, it’s not being done universally, although current statute says they shall,” Parker said during the Feb. 7 Education Committee hearing.
“It’s puzzling to me to hear that accusation that district schools are trying to undermine God and patriotism. My experience has been the complete opposite,” Schwiebert, a former teacher, said in that hearing.
The Senate Education Committee voted 4-3 along party lines on March 22 to approve the bill. The bill cleared the House with only GOP support. It will next go to the full Senate for consideration, although Gov. Katie Hobbs has said she won’t sign any bills that don’t have bipartisan backing.