Veto the Pledge bill

2012-03-25T00:05:19Z Veto the Pledge bill Daily Herald
March 25, 2012 12:05 am

A bill that ratchets up the frequency of the Pledge of Allegiance for junior high and high school students through a daily ceremony is now before Gov. Gary Herbert. The idea behind SB 223 is that more repetition of the Pledge will stir hearts to greater heights of patriotism.

It won't work, and the governor should veto the measure.

Under existing law, the Pledge is required daily only in elementary schools and once weekly at junior highs and high schools. That is sufficient, and it's been working fine.

It's one thing to teach the words of the Pledge to the very young in grades K-6 who are learning the basics about America. It's something else to impose a loyalty oath, however sentimental or well-intentioned, on youths in high school -- even those who already feel loyal to their country. There is a point at which government-sanctioned viewpoints need to be phased out of public instruction. And that's what the existing law already does.

Too much familiarity breeds contempt, and the Pledge is overused today. By increasing its frequency, SB 223 will, at best, accomplish nothing, and at worst may annoy, foster disrespect, and engender hostility and resistance.

Students need to clearly understand that they have the right under the First Amendment -- on their own authority and without a letter from parents -- to choose whether, and how, to express political viewpoints. They need not participate in daily mass groupthink. But under SB 223 there will be pressure to do so.

One's reason to refrain may be as simple as believing that mindless repetition of a 120-year-old commercial screed, written by a socialist (Francis Bellamy) as part of a marketing effort to sell American flags to schools along with subscriptions to a children's magazine, is not the best way to demonstrate love of country.

Bellamy penned the Pledge in 1892 with backing from the National Education Association, which had endorsed the purchase of "The Youth's Companion" magazine. He had initially considered using the socialist buzzwords "equality" and "fraternity" but decided against it, knowing that certain educators opposed equality for women and blacks.

Now fast forward to 2012: Today's question is not that the Pledge of Allegiance is so terrible on its face. But any element of compulsion to express one's inner feelings is unhealthy -- especially pressure to recite the official view of the state, even if one agrees with it. Expression of patriotism should be a personal matter, not a formal, ceremonial group exercise.

Telling students that they have a right to refrain if they choose is no clear remedy. The state is applying pressure by orchestrating a program. A whole peer group is directed to stand in unison and to be led by one of their own in reciting what amounts to a loyalty oath.

Sure, students would be informed that participation is voluntary, but that doesn't overcome what is fundamentally a state intrusion upon conscience. Even today, most high school kids succumb to social pressure and murmur the words half-heartedly -- just listen in sometime and you'll see. So it might be wondered whether the Pledge actually inspires as alleged.

There's nothing that kills sincere expression faster than force.

What if Utah law directed all adult spouses to say "I love you" to each other every day? Under the rationale for SB 223, marital bonds would be strengthened. But, in truth, the phrase would quickly become a meaningless chore for loving couples and troubled ones alike.

The Pledge of Allegiance, for all its sentimental value and appearance at public events and government meetings, does only a mediocre job of capturing the great principles upon which this nation was built. And so we pose this question: If students should be required to recite something of patriotic value every day, wouldn't the immortal words of inspired founders be preferable to the relatively unartful set of trite phrases that comprise the Pledge of Allegiance? With all due respect to Red Skelton, there's not a lot there.

Take, for example, a quick comparison of the Pledge of Allegiance to the Declaration of Independence. Which words move you most?

• I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America

• We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal

• and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible

• endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness

• with liberty and justice for all.

• That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

It's simply no contest.

SB 223 arises from the best of intentions by the Legislature. Unfortunately, it falls short of the characteristic quality of the other school-related bills from its sponsor, Sen. Aaron Osmond of South Jordan. One might suspect the urgings of the same constituency that led Osmond's predecessor, retired Sen. Chris Buttars, to advance a bill in 2003 (SB 105) that was signed into law and established current practice.

There is no reason to go beyond that today by imposing even more Pledges in Utah's secondary schools. The governor should say so with a veto.

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