State senators consider Pledge of Allegiance bill

Robyn Repya

Every day, second-graders in Sharon Johnson’s class at the Como-area Tuttle Community Elementary School place their hands on their hearts and recite the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by a piano-accompanied rendition of “America the Beautiful.”

A controversial bill debated in the state Senate on Tuesday could make this a more common sight throughout the state.

In an effort to promote patriotism among youth, the bill – which passed the House on Feb. 27 by a 114-11 vote – would require all Minnesota K-12 public and charter school students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in school.

The bill would mandate the recitation of the pledge one or more times per week and instruction in flag etiquette – proper ways to fold and display the flag.

Sen. Mady Reiter, R-Shoreview, the bill’s author, said the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were a catalyst for many constituents to voice concern about a lack of patriotism.

“It is more important for (children) to learn about (patriotism) now more than ever,” Reiter said. “We are the only democracy on earth and people look to us for hope Ö For many years we probably took America for granted.”

Reiter said many constituents have contacted her requesting such legislation, citing that the pledge is not recited in many area schools.

But many local educators and legislators say the legislation is unconstitutional and shallow.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate in a democracy to mandate patriotism,” said Sen. Sandra Pappas, DFL-St. Paul and chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee. “It’s not necessary legislation.”

Ellen Murphy, principal of the Tuttle and Pratt Community Elementary Schools in Minneapolis, said the decision of how to teach patriotism should be made on a teacher-to-teacher basis.

She said a few classes in Tuttle schools recite the pledge or participate in other patriotic activities, such as singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” but do so on their own. Murphy said she’d like to keep it that way.

“I would like to see teachers make their own decisions on how to teach patriotism,” she said.

The bill includes provisions allowing students and teachers to opt out of the recitation without penalty.

But even with the opt-out clause, Edina High School teacher Dan Baron said he is concerned the legislation is simplistic.

Baron said it’s important to instill civic values in students by talking about deeper meanings of patriotism, such as questioning authority and not being passive.

“People who are truly patriotic are people who question what is going on instead of following the government position,” he said.

In a high school class a few years ago, Baron said, he asked his students to talk about the language of the pledge. He said saying the pledge had become so routine students didn’t even know the correct words.

Edina high school senior Karl Nelson said requiring students to say the pledge isn’t fair for elementary-age children.

“They wouldn’t understand exactly what they’re pledging allegiance to or what it means,” he said.

But Matt Kohlmann, another Edina senior, said pledging allegiance to the flag shows respect for the United States.

Kohlmann said, “If you don’t like America, then why do you live here?”

Sen. Steve Kelley, DFL- Hopkins, said many legislators are concerned their political opponents will portray them as unpatriotic if they choose to not support the bill.

Kelley – who is opposed to the legislation – said mandating students to pledge allegiance is an attempt to compel students to blindly support the government.

“There’s no proof that works. And in totalitarian countries, they’ve tried it and it hasn’t worked,” he said. “I think it’s inconsistent with our country’s core value of liberty.”

Kelley said the bill underestimates youth, perpetuating the misconception that there’s something wrong with kids, and they should be forced to change.

He said it’s important for individuals to explore a variety of ways to show their patriotism. He encourages civic involvement, such as community and state service.

“To have the Pledge of Allegiance be the focus of our discussion on what patriotism means would be a tragedy,” he said.

Robyn Repya welcomes comments at [email protected]