By Sam Inglot
Capital News Service
Lansing– Public school students in Michigan would recite the Pledge of Allegiance daily in the classroom if a Senate bill is passed into law.
The bill, introduced by Sen. Roger Kahn, R-Saginaw, would require a school district to have an American flag in every classroom and mandate that every student recite the Pledge of Allegiance each school day.
Requiring students to recite the pledge and the accompanying controversy are not new, said Arlene Marie, state director of the Michigan Atheists. And it’s not just over the phrase “under God.”
“The ‘under God’, is far less important to me than the entire sense that requiring the Pledge of Allegiance is just plain wrong,” she said. “It is divisive and there are many reasons why parents would not want their children to say the Pledge of Allegiance.”
Children are not old enough to understand an oath or a pledge to anything, she said. And there are various religions that forbid their followers’ children from taking oaths or pledges. She cited Jehovah’s Witnesses as an example.
“Many children in our public schools are not even citizens of this country,” Marie said.
The Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892 by the socialist minister Francis Bellamy. “Under God” was added in 1954. The pledge has been the topic of several Supreme Court cases over the past few decades regarding the phrase and whether the pledge should be mandatory in schools.
The high court has ruled that requiring the pledge in schools is unconstitutional unless there is a provision for parents to opt out of it, said Dan Korobkin, staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan.
The bill cleared the Senate Education Committee in late October. Douglas Williams, legislative affairs chairman for the American Legion, spoke in support of the legislation then.
“At an early age, children should begin to develop an appreciation for the nation and for what the flag of the United States represents,” Williams testified. “The flag of the United States is an important symbol of this nation and respect for the flag of the United States is a foundation upon which to build an understanding of the sacrifices made by the nation’s forefathers and veterans.”
Committee members added a provision to allow parents to opt-out.
“It’s interesting that exceptions are already being made for it,” said Jim Ballard, executive director for the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals. “Different people can be excused from that requirement and we think that there should probably be some more exceptions for when students get older–into 17, 18 and 19 years of age and whether they choose to say the pledge or not is up to them.”
If passed, Mark Thomas, principal at Northview High School in Grand Rapids, said his district would need to discuss with the community and school officials how to handle the new law to avoid conflicts.
“I think some of the biggest challenges you can create is when you go ‘Ready, fire, aim’ and not take the time to understand what your target is or what you’re trying to deal with,” he said. “The policy that usually sticks is policy that is well thought out and can be explained and people can see the value and then it can garner support.”
The bill would require schools to purchase a flag for every classroom.
“Right now when it comes to the challenge we have with resources is this going to be perceived as a priority for our resources?” Thomas said.
Forcing students to recite the pledge is hard to enforce, Marie said
And Thomas said instruction time would take a hit if disagreements about the requirement arise.
“I do think that a lot of time would be spent trying to sort out those issues and that time spent on that is time taken away from instruction in the classroom and learning needs,” he said. “How much time do you want to spend in trying to work on that as opposed to working on academic achievement?”
Kahn did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Nonmembers cannot reproduce CNS articles without written permission.
By Sam Inglot