Arizona is at it again. Not content with abolishing ethnic studies classes, pursuing xenophobic immigration policies and desperately fighting same-sex marriage, Arizona’s lawmakers have now come up with a bill that requires high school students to swear loyalty to the US and say “so help me God” in order to graduate.
I should add that these are GOP lawmakers.
If this new bill just becomes law, all public high school students in Arizona will have to recite an oath supporting the U.S. ConstitutionĚ in order to graduate. The measure, House Bill 2467, was offered by Representative Bob Thorpe (R), a freshman Tea Party member.
No big surprise: this same representative is also behind a bill preventing state enforcement of federally enacted gun safety laws.
Students would be required to say:
“I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose or evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge these duties; so help me God.”
A separate measure introduced by Thorpe’s colleague would also require all students in first through 12th grades to say the pledge of allegiance each day. Currently, schools must set aside time for the pledge each day, but students may choose whether to participate.
Constitutional experts warn that both proposals are unconstitutional. As American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona Public Policy Director Anjali Abraham explained, 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.
As you might expect, there have been plenty of instances of people of various faiths challenging loyalty oaths imposed by the federal government, including Jehovah’s witnesses, Muslims and pacifist Quakers, protesting that such oaths conflict with their beliefs and religious professions.
So it seems likely that some students in Arizona will pursue that path if this bill, which is clearly a violation of their right to religious liberty and free speech,† becomes law.
Such proposals have affected other US schools. Last August, the Nebraska Board of Education voted to require all public K-12 schools in the state to make time for the Pledge of Allegiance every day, but students are not forced to participate.
However, New Jersey high school student Chelsea Stanton fought a long battle with her school last summer, and won the right to stay seated during the Pledge of Allegiance. As an atheist, Stanton said she “couldn’t bring herself to recite [the Pledge] anymore” because of the words, “under God.”
Growing up in England, with church and state being one, I was required to recite Christian prayers every morning. But the few students of other faiths, mostly Jewish, quietly left the room, returning at the end of the session.
To suggest that all students should intone “under God” in order to receive a degree is both insulting, and also in violation of the First Amendment. Is Representative Thorpe doing this because he doesn’t trust parents in Arizona (maybe especially the 30 percent who are Latino) to instil a love of country and God in their children?
What will Arizona come up with next?
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