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Arizona House GOP passes bill forcing kids to say Pledge in school
State Rep. Barbara Parker claimed the bill was legal because church/state separation wasn't in the Constitution
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On a straight party-line vote, Arizona Republicans have backed a bill forcing public school students to say the Pledge of Allegiance. While no penalty is specified for those who disobey, the illegal bill offers no exceptions for students who refuse to participate in the religious ritual.
HB2523, which passed by a slim 31-29 vote, says that all K-12 students “shall recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the United States Flag.” The only exceptions apply to students who are at least 18 or who have the explicit permission of their parents to sit out. But students who oppose saying the Pledge on principle would have no recourse here unless their parents were on their side.
I’ve made an entire podcast series about the history of the Pledge, but just to go over the biggest concerns…
The phrase “under God” pushes religion onto people who may not be religious. Even without that phrase, the very notion of pledging allegiance to a flag violates the religious beliefs of some students who believe only God deserves allegiance.
The Pledge also falsely suggests that we have “liberty and justice for all,” which is one reason students of color have opposed it in recent years.
The Pledge was originally written to promote anti-immigrant sentiment.
And frankly, our country doesn’t always deserve admiration. Why would we want to “pledge allegiance” to a nation that is so often a global embarrassment? If Saudi Arabia forced students to say a pledge to their country every day, we’d immediately call it a form of brainwashing.
Those are all reasons not to say the Pledge in a normal situation, but forcing students to participate in the religious ritual against their will, unless their parents feel the same way they do, is undoubtedly a violation of students’ civil rights.
That means this bill is illegal and would provoke a lawsuit if it ever became law. In fact, the Supreme Court ruled in Barnette in 1943 that students couldn’t be forced to salute the flag or say the Pledge. (That decision overturned a notoriously awful ruling from 1940 which said the opposite.) While “Under God” wasn’t in the Pledge at the time, the justices said the government could not compel speech, with one justice famously writing, “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”
None of that mattered to the bill’s sponsor, first-term Republican State Rep. Barbara Parker, who, in a speech just before the vote took place, implied that church/state separation was a myth and that the 1943 Supreme Court decision was irrelevant.
First of all, a couple of things. One is: It's really important that we clear up a few things that should never be said again from lawmakers in a legislature.
One: The separation of church and state is in the Constitution. That was never said in the Constitution. It was written in a letter years later. The separation clause was therefore the government couldn't form a religion or couldn't force a state religion. So let's never hear that again.
A second thing is that: Everybody tends to quote the Barnette ruling from 1943. First of all, “Under God” wasn't put in in 1943. It was put in in 1954. And nobody's really ever opposed that.
Furthermore, we stand and say the Pledge of Allegiance everyday on this floor. What's good for us is good for the children.
Separation of church and state emerges from the First Amendment and has repeatedly been interpreted that way by the courts. To pretend the government can therefore promote religion is nothing more than willful ignorance by someone who has plenty to spare.
More importantly, Parker is flat-out wrong about the Barnette case. She cited it because a Democrat mentioned it just before she spoke, but Parker seemed to think the case was being used to push back against “Under God.” It wasn’t. It was cited to point out that government cannot force students to say or do something political against their will. (And, yes, plenty of people and judges have opposed both mandatory recitation of the Pledge and the inclusion of “Under God.”)
Parker also thinks that if her legislative colleagues do it, it should be okay for kids to follow suit. Again, she has no clue what she’s talking about. Just to give one example, the Supreme Court has permitted invocation prayers at city council meetings, but the same privilege doesn’t extend to school board meetings or graduations where children may be present.
Just because Republicans in the Arizona legislature want to use their majorities to inflict Christianity on their colleagues doesn’t mean they have any right to force that on children.
The Arizona Senate, where the bill now heads, also has a slim Republican majority of 16-14. Even if it passes there, though, Gov. Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, can thankfully veto it. If and when that happens, Hobbs would be saving taxpayers from a costly lawsuit they would inevitably lose.
The government cannot force children to say a prayer in school no matter how much misinformation Christians like Barbara Parker want to spread.
***Update***: Rep. Athena Salman, a Democrat in the State House who voted against this bill, said in a statement to me, “Students’ constitutional rights don’t end at the doorsteps of a school. Compelling students to say the Pledge is fundamentally wrong and goes against the freedom of speech!”