States

States Weigh Bills to Stoke Students’ Patriotism

By John Gehring — March 27, 2002 4 min read

State lawmakers around the country have been crafting legislation that would have schools begin the day with the Pledge of Allegiance, post the national motto “In God We Trust” in classrooms, or require students to take classes that teach patriotism.

The flurry of bills, many of which are still pending, has emerged against a broader backdrop of renewed national pride following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

Many of the proposals are welcomed by those who say schools have drifted too far from teaching patriotic values and the tenets of American democracy. Critics see the efforts as attempts to mandate patriotic correctness and as examples of old-fashioned political grandstanding.

Either way, the debates over the issue often touch raw nerves.

“It’s hard to vote against something like this because people misinterpret what you’re saying,” said Rep. Frank Weddig of Colorado, a Democrat who opposes a bill that would require schools to include the Pledge of Allegiance in the school day.

In Missouri, Sen. Ted House, the Democratic chairman of the education committee, introduced a bill that would require all K-12 public schools to offer the pledge. “The mandate is on the schools and not the students,” he said. “We don’t demand loyalty.”

He sponsored the same legislation three years ago, only to watch it fail. This year, it passed 32-0 in the Senate and has moved to the House.

“There was a noticeable difference after September 11,” Mr. House said.

High Court Has Spoken

According to the Denver-based National Conference of State Legislatures, half the states now require schools to offer the Pledge of Allegiance during the school day, though students can choose not to participate. Six states recommend that schools make time for the pledge.

This year, bills that would require schools to conduct the pledge have been introduced in several states, including Colorado, Connecticut, Mississippi, Missouri, and Indiana.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1943, in the landmark case West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, that students can’t be forced to recite the pledge. While aiming to steer clear of unconstitutional waters, state legislators have been seeking to require, or at least strongly encourage, schools to offer the Pledge of Allegiance as a way to revive a tradition they say has been lost in many schools.

“I was surprised to find that some of the schools were not saying it on a voluntary basis,” said Rep. F. Philip Prelli, a Connecticut Republican who introduced a bill that would require schools to set aside time each day to say the pledge.

“I can’t force patriotism, but if I never teach patriotism, I can’t build the base for it,” Mr. Prelli continued. “We were getting away from patriotism in this country. For generations we all said the Pledge of Allegiance. We should be doing that for our children now.”

But Teresa Younger, the executive director of the Connecticut chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the state should not be meddling in an area better left to local control.

“There are school districts that already do this. We are concerned about the state mandating this,” she said.

Elsewhere, lawmakers have also considered bills that would require schools to hang signs reading “In God We Trust"—the national motto, which appears on U.S. currency. A year ago, Mississippi became the first state to pass such a law. Michigan followed and adopted a similar measure in December.

The American Family Association, a conservative Christian group in Tupelo, Miss., has for the past few years mobilized a national campaign to have the motto—which was adopted by Congress in 1956—posted in schools around the country.

Randy Sharp, the director of special projects with the AFA, said the terrorist attacks created a renewed interest in the effort. At least 15 states, Mr. Sharp said, now require or strongly encourage displaying the motto in classrooms.

“Because no legal challenges to the motto have been successful, the ACLU has admitted the public display of our national motto is constitutional. Yet, some ACLU chapters continue to intimidate local school boards by threatening a lawsuit.”

David Owens, the superintendent of the 29,000-student Clay County, Fla., public schools, said the national motto has been posted in all of his district’s schools. A bill in the Florida legislature that would require schools to post the motto has been approved by the House.

“If it’s a way of building patriotism, I’m all for it,” Mr. Owens said. “When I told the principals about this, they all wanted it. This has been very well-received here.”

Patriotism Classes

In another twist on the same theme, lawmakers in a number of states have pushed for having students take patriotism classes. Such courses, the sponsors argue, would improve young people’s understanding of what it means to be an American citizen.

In Colorado, for example, a bill offered by Sen. John Andrews, a Republican, would have required students in every grade to take an “age appropriate” unit of patriotism that would complement what students already learn in history or civics classes.

The Senate, however, has amended the bill so that it would encourage rather than mandate the classes. The unit would include a review of the country’s founding documents, including the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.

“Our goal was to do what we can to see that the new mood of valuing this country and our heritage is more than just a mood, that it’s the beginning of a new approach with what we do with our students in school,” Mr. Andrews said.

But Senate President Stan Matsunaka said lawmakers were just trying to win political points with patriotism.

“This is grandstanding at its worst,” Mr. Matsunaka, a Democrat running for governor, asserted.

“The Republicans want to wrap themselves in the flag and say they are more patriotic than Democrats,” he said. “I think it’s hogwash.”

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the March 27, 2002 edition of Education Week as States Weigh Bills to Stoke Students’ Patriotism

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Equity, Care and Connection: New SEL Tools and Practices to Support Students and Adults
As school districts plan to welcome students back into buildings for the upcoming school year, this is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and our systems to build a
Content provided by Panorama Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Classroom Technology Webinar
Here to Stay – Pandemic Lessons for EdTech in Future Development
What technology is needed in a post pandemic district? Learn how changes in education will impact development of new technologies.
Content provided by AWS
School & District Management Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Strategies & Tips for Complex Decision-Making
Schools are working through the most disruptive period in the history of modern education, facing a pandemic, economic problems, social justice issues, and rapid technological change all at once. But even after the pandemic ends,

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

States 8 States Debate Bills to Restrict How Teachers Discuss Racism, Sexism
Proposed bills in several states aim to ban "divisive concepts."
8 min read
Messed up puzzle pieces of an American flag on a dark blue background
iStock/Getty Images Plus
States How to Talk About Next School Year Presents a Big Test for Education Leaders
State K-12 officials must clearly communicate plans for safety, academics, and mental health, while mixing urgency with nuance.
12 min read
Woman applying "Welcome Back" sign to the school entrance
Leo Patrizi/E+/Getty Images
States Two More States Pass Restrictions on Transgender Students. Will Others Follow?
States have considered dozens of bills on the rights of transgender students. They cover everything from sports to pronouns used in schools.
4 min read
Advocates for transgender people march from the South Dakota governor's mansion to the Capitol in Pierre, S.D., on March 11, 2021, to protest a proposed ban on transgender girls and women from female sports leagues.
Advocates for transgender people march from the South Dakota governor's mansion to the Capitol in Pierre to protest a proposed ban on transgender girls and women from female sports leagues.
Stephen Groves/AP
States Vaccine Access Speeds Up for Teachers After Biden's Declaration
The vaccine landscape for teachers shifted dramatically after President Joe Biden directed states to prioritize the K-12 workforce.
7 min read
030321 Vaccine Breaking AP BS
The Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is held by a pharmacist at Hartford Hospital in Connecticut on March.
Jessica Hill