Two Arizona lawmakers are stirring Constitutional debate and threats of legal action after introducing bills that would require the state's students to express love of country under God.
House Bill 2467, sponsored by Republican state Rep. Bob Thorpe, would require all public high school seniors to take an oath to "support and defend" the U.S. Constitution and proclaim, "so help me god." A second proposal, House Bill 2284 sponsored by Republican state Rep. Steve Smith, would require all public 1-12 students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. The oath, as proposed by Thorpe, reads:
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 of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge these duties; So help me God.
While critics argue that Thorpe's bill violates the Constitution by requiring a religious declaration to graduate from high school, the lawmaker asserts the bill's legality. The bill, as written, also doesn't outline exemptions for students who are atheist or of other faiths from the requirement. Still, Thorpe says he is considering amending the proposal to make the oath optional to avoid making students or parents uncomfortable, though he is still a strong conceptual proponent of the bill, The Arizona Republic reports.
"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 told The Republic. "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."
Public school students in Arizona currently must allow time for the Pledge each day, but students are permitted to choose whether they wish to take part. Smith's proposal strikes the words "those students who wish," thus removing the option, and adding a provision for exemption if a student's parent specifically requests their child be excused from recitation.
But both bills could open the floodgates to a slew of lawsuits. Alessandra Soler, executive director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, says if taken to court, the proposals could be deemed violations of students' rights to free speech.
"Students have a right to free speech, a right to stay silent, a right to go to school," Soler told Current, the media network co-founded by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore. "It's cynical and ironic that they are promoting allegiance to the Constitution by requiring an oath in the face of crumbling schools and dwindling education funds. Rather than make increases to budgets, they're assuming an oath will teach students about the Constitution."
Smith's proposal is one of several that have affected schools across the country. The Nebraska Board of Education unanimously voted last August to require the state's public schools to set time aside every day for the Pledge of Allegiance in grades K-12. Students are, however, allowed to stand or sit quietly if they choose not to participate.
But last summer, New Jersey high school student Chelsea Stanton won an extensive battle with her school, which was repeatedly punishing her for refusing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. Stanton, an atheist, said she "couldn't bring herself to recite [the Pledge] anymore" because of the words, "under God."
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According to the “Educating Our Children” section of <a href="http://www.scribd.com/doc/98440774/2012-Platform-Final">Texas Republican Party 2012 Platform</a>, “corporal punishment is effective.” Furthermore, the document recommends teachers be given "more authority" to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/27/texas-republican-party-2012-platform-education_n_1632097.html">deal with disciplinary problems</a>.
The proposal’s most radical position, however, <a href="http://www.reddit.com/r/politics/comments/vo26x/texas_gop_we_oppose_the_teaching_of_higher_order/">opposes the teaching of "higher order thinking skills"</a> -- a curriculum which strives to encourage critical thinking -- arguing that it <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/27/texas-republican-party-2012-platform-education_n_1632097.html">might challenge "student's fixed beliefs"</a> and undermine "parental authority."
One school participating in Louisiana's voucher program notes that its students "will be <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/31/louisiana-voucher-program_n_1724259.html">expected to defend creationism through evidence presented by the Bible</a> versus traditional scientific theory."
According to <em>Mother Jones</em>, <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2012/07/photos-evangelical-curricula-louisiana-tax-dollars">many of the Christian schools</a> rely on <a href="http://www.abeka.com/">A Beka Book</a> curriculum or <a href="http://www.bjupress.com/page/Home">Bob Jones University Press</a> textbooks to teach their students “the <a href="http://www.abeka.com/OurFoundation.aspx">accumulated wisdom of the past from a biblical worldview</a>.” Here are some <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/08/crazy-facts-students-will_n_1758003.html">examples</a>:
"Bible-believing Christians cannot accept any evolutionary interpretation. <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2012/07/photos-evangelical-curricula-louisiana-tax-dollars">Dinosaurs and humans were definitely on the earth at the same time</a> and may have even lived side by side within the past few thousand years." — <em>Life Science</em>, 3rd ed., Bob Jones University Press, 2007
Gay people "have no more claims to <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2012/07/photos-evangelical-curricula-louisiana-tax-dollars">special rights than child molesters or rapists</a>." — <em>Teacher's Resource Guide to Current Events for Christian Schools, 1998-1999</em>, Bob Jones University Press, 1998
In April, Tennessee lawmakers added language to the state’s abstinence-only sex education curriculum that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/08/tennessee-sex-education-b_n_1411100.html">warns against “gateway sexual activity.”</a> Although Senate Bill 3310 does not specify what constitutes "gateway sexual activity,” many have interpreted the phrase to dissuade anything that has potential to lead to sex -- including kissing, hand-holding and cuddling. The bill is a response to recent controversies over sex-ed lessons in some Tennessee school districts that mentioned alternatives to sexual intercourse. "'Abstinence' means from all of these activities, and we want to promote that," said Republican state Sen. Jack Johnson, the bill's sponsor. "What we do <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/08/tennessee-sex-education-b_n_1411100.html">want to communicate to the kids is that the best choice is abstinence</a>."
In March, the Utah state Senate passed a bill that would <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/07/utah-passes-bill-allowing_n_1326777.html">permit schools to eliminate sex education</a>, prohibit instruction on how to use contraception and bar discussion of homosexuality in class. Many senators spoke out in support of the bill, claiming sex education is meant for the home, not school. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert eventually <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/17/utah-governor-vetoes-bill_n_1355053.html">vetoed the controversial bill</a>. Spurred on by the impassioned Utah sex education debate, Republican state Sen. Stuart Reid is now sponsoring a bill that would <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/22/utah-senator-stuart-reid-_n_1989793.html?utm_hp_ref=education">require the state school board to develop a sex education program for parents</a>, so that they might feel better equipped to teach their children about sex in the privacy of their own homes.
A 2011 Mississippi law <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/30/mississippi-sex-education_n_1719882.html">required some sort of sex education in all school systems beginning this academic year</a>. Local districts had the option of deciding whether to adopt an abstinence-only or an abstinence-plus policy for sex education. Abstinence-plus teaches safe-sex practices, contraception and causes and effects of sexually transmitted diseases in addition to abstinence. More than <a href="http://www.sacbee.com/2012/10/13/4910033/sex-education-in-mississippi-classrooms.html">80 of the state's 151 districts opted for abstinence-only curriculums</a>, while three chose to adopt split policies, teaching abstinence-only to younger students and abstinence-plus to older grades. Students must receive parental permission to take the courses and boys and girls take the classes separately.
In April, Arizona Republican Gov. Jan Brewer signed legislation requiring the state Board of Education to design a high school elective course for public and charter school students titled "The Bible and its influence on Western Culture," which would include <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/19/arizona-bible-course-bill_n_1437484.html">lessons on the history, literature and influence of the Old and New testaments on laws, government and culture</a>, among other aspects of society.
A measure passed in recent years required Virginia’s Board of Education to design course materials in line with the <a href="http://www.doe.virginia.gov/boe/guidance/safety/school_gun_safety_elementary.pdf">National Rifle Association's Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program guidelines</a> to teach elementary students about gun safety. The curriculum includes <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/22/virginia-school-districts_n_976126.html">lessons ranging from distinguishing those who use guns professionally to recognizing and catching firearms on school property</a>. Individual districts had the option of deciding whether to adopt the curriculum.
In July 2011, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill making <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/06/california-gay-textbooks-_n_891464.html">California the first state to require public schools to teach lessons on historical and current contributions of gays and lesbians</a>. According to <em>USA Today</em>, the new law mandates the California Board of Education and local school districts <a href="http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/nation/2011-07-14-california-teaching-gay-history-schools_n.htm">adopt textbooks and other teaching materials that include the contributions of sexual minorities as soon as the 2013-14 school year</a>. The legislation does not specify a grade level for instruction to begin, and leaves implementation up to local school boards.
Around the same time that California’s landmark bill was signed, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/18/new-york-city-teaching-ga_n_901876.html">summer school teachers in New York City began teaching about same-sex marriage</a> in civics classes. According to the <em>New York Post</em>, city education officials are looking to follow in California's footsteps and formally include it into city schools' curriculum, though a <a href="http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/gay_nups_become_class_act_xcxuOGG9Vsz1y0C98mUm5J#ixzz1SSJoMfkQ">timeline is yet to be determined</a>.
In July 2011, Indiana school officials announced that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/07/indiana-schools-no-longer_n_892377.html">students would no longer be required to learn cursive writing</a>, effective Fall 2011.
Hawaii / North Carolina
Following Indiana, Hawaii <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/01/hawaii-no-longer-requires_n_915402.html">dropped cursive writing from its mandatory school curriculum</a>. Going into the 2011-12 school year, the state adopted the national Common Core State Standards, a set of education standards that omits cursive but includes keyboard proficiency. Now, principals decide whether their schools teach cursive. Pitt County Schools in North Carolina recently followed suit, no longer requiring its students to learn cursive writing. According to Assistant Superintendent Cheryl Olmstead, a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/05/pitt-county-schools-in-no_n_2079608.html">team of educators is working to figure out where to fit cursive writing into the curriculum so that students will have a recognizable signature</a>. She says the district hopes to have a plan in place next year.