A bill aimed at forcing Arizona’s public school students to recite the Pledge of Alliance each day passed the state House this week. Despite opponents citing that the measure is clearly unconstitutional, the House’s Republican majority is pressing forward.
“We stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance every day on this floor. What’s good for us is good for the children,” Rep. Barbara Parker (R–Mesa), who sponsored House Bill 2523, said during a hearing for the bill.
H.B. 2523, which was introduced last month, seeks to require that the state’s public primary and secondary schools “set aside a specific time each day for students who wish to recite the pledge of allegiance to the United States flag,” adding that “each student shall recite the pledge of allegiance to the United States at this time.” The bill allows students to refuse only when they are over 18 or have parental permission to refuse to recite the pledge.
“This is to make sure that students growing up understand the country in which they live and embrace the citizenship and the founding principles that we hold so dear,” said state Sen. Wendy Rogers (R–Flagstaff).
The bill passed on Tuesday along party lines, with Republicans exclusively supporting the measure. It will likely pass the Republican-controlled state Senate. However, the bill is blatantly illegal, and even if it manages to somehow overcome a veto from the state’s Democratic governor, it would likely be quickly overturned in federal court.
As much as Arizona Republicans want to enforce this “citizenship” exercise, the Supreme Court decisively ruled in 1943 that schoolchildren cannot be forced to say the Pledge of Allegiance. In West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, the Court ruled that the state cannot compel anyone—even schoolchildren—to profess or vow a belief they do not hold.
“Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard,” wrote Justice Robert H. Jackson in the Court’s opinion, famously adding, “if there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in matters of politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”
Constitutional law doesn’t seem to bother the bill’s supporters, who argue that the provision allowing parents to permit their children to sit out the pledge is sufficient protection for free speech. “The current law is that parents have a right to direct the education of their child,” Parker said during the floor debate over the bill. “And this is a parents’ rights state.”
Regardless of Arizona Republicans’ insistence, they don’t have the power to singlehandedly quash the First Amendment rights of Arizona schoolchildren. If the bill becomes law, they’ll likely learn this in court.