Utah lawmaker pushes mandatory pledge bill
By The Associated Press
SALT LAKE CITY Pamela Brown, a 16-year-old sophomore at Woods Cross High School, doesn't like being told to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
When her classmates rise every week for the pledge, Brown also stands "so I don't offend everybody." She'll recite the pledge but skip the phrase "one nation under God" because she considers that an unholy alliance of government and religion.
Brown encapsulates the debate taking place as the Utah Legislature moves to force junior and high schools to set aside time every week for the pledge. That's an option now for those schools.
Utah mandates the pledge only in elementary schools, where the law says children must recite it every school day unless their parents excuse them.
The revision, which passed the Utah Senate 23-3 on Jan. 30, was expected to sail through the House as early as this week. Yesterday, the measure was sent to the House Education Committee.
Though Gov. Mike Leavitt hasn't made his position known, sponsor state Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, said Leavitt is certain to let the measure become law.
Utah is hardly alone. Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, at least 26 states have rushed to adopt or strengthen pledge laws in public schools, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Some measures take a punitive form, threatening to withhold state aid to school districts that refuse to cooperate. New York state even considered but didn't adopt a measure to impeach school board members who stand in the way.
For lawmakers, "part of the reason it has become so popular to consider pledge-of-allegiance bills is it doesn't cost any money," said Greta Durr, a policy analyst for the National Conference of Legislatures.
The pledge has lately run into some trouble. A federal appeals court in San Francisco ruled last June that public schools couldn't use it because of the phrase "under God." That phrase was added in 1954 by Congress to a Baptist minister's 23-word homily for an 1892 edition of The Youth's Companion magazine in Boston.
In the 2-1 decision, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the phrase amounted to a government endorsement of religion in violation of the First Amendment's establishment clause, which requires a separation of church and state.
The full appeals court is reconsidering that ruling.
In Utah, associations that represent school boards and school superintendents have taken but not promoted the position that any mandatory pledge law is unnecessary.
"We're already doing it," said Ralph Haws, a board member for Jordan School District and legislative co-chairman for the Utah School Boards Association.
"We don't need the government telling us we need to do it," said Haws, a retired 37-year Army National Guard veteran whose youngest son is on call for a possible war against Iraq. "Requiring it is not the way to teach our kids patriotism."
Buttars says it "drives me crazy" that anyone would oppose a tougher Pledge of Allegiance law for public schools.
"All the Constitution says is government can't promote a particular religion," he said, borrowing from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonio Scalia's public comments on Jan. 12.
Scalia told a religion rally in Fredericksburg, Va., that while government cannot establish religion, the Constitution and Founding Fathers never intended to strip God from public life.
Buttars' measure would let students of any age opt out of the pledge with a parent's note, an exception that's of little comfort to Brown at Woods Cross High School.
"I think it should just be a choice. You shouldn't have to get your parents' permission. I don't think it should be required," she said.
The pledge brings out students of every persuasion.
Tommy Carter, a senior and student body president at Woods Cross High School, says he favors making secondary schools set aside time for the pledge.
"I think that's great because a lot of people really don't have respect for the flag or the pledge," he said.
"I think if you live in the United States ... it's just showing that you're grateful for what you have while you're here and you're grateful for the freedoms you have," he said.
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