A pair of Republican state lawmakers in Arizona are sponsoring separate bills that would require public school students to pledge their loyalty to the United States and its constitution.
The Arizona Republicreports that one of the measures would force students to recite a loyalty oath to the constitution in order to graduate, while the other would compel nearly all students to recite the pledge of allegiance every day.
HB 2467, sponsored by freshman Tea Party Republican Rep. Bob Thorpe of Flagstaff, would not allow public high school seniors to graduate unless they recite a loyalty oath to the constitution. According to the text of the bill, "before a pupil is allowed to graduate from a public high school in this state, the principal or head teacher of the school shall verify in writing that the pupil has recited the following oath:"
I, _____ , do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge these duties; so help me God.
But students who do not wish to recite such an oath for whatever reason, if they want to graduate, will not be able to "take this obligation freely," nor will atheists or others who do not acknowledge or believe in "God."
The other controversial measure, HB 2284, is sponsored by Rep. Steve Smith of Maricopa, who also describes himself as a Tea Party member. According to the text of the bill, all public and charter schools must:
Acquire United States flags that are manufactured in the United States... For grades 7-12, acquire a legible copy of the constitution and the Bill of Rights that is manufactured in the United States... Display the flags... in each classroom... and a legible copy of the constitution and Bill of Rights adjacent to each flag. For grades 1-12, set aside a specific time each day to recite the pledge of allegiance to the United States flag. At the request of a parent, a pupil shall be excused from the requirement.
The Pledge of Allegiance is: "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands; one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
Again, the pledge might be anathema to students who do not believe in "God" or who have no allegiance, or do not wish to pledge allegiance, to the United States.
Under current Arizona law, students who do not wish to recite the pledge are free not to.
Rep. Smith says he came up with the idea for his bill after hearing the story of a Maricopa high school student who felt "mocked and embarrassed" when she was the only one in her class to stand and recite the pledge.
"It's important that our kids do this," Smith told the Arizona Republic.
Rep. Thorpe seems to be having second thoughts about the bill he's sponsoring.
"I do not want to create a requirement that students or parents may feel uncomfortable with," he told the Republic, adding that he understands that "some students will embrace this more than others."
But with Republicans controlling both houses of Arizona's legislature, as well as the governor's office, there is little to stop these constitutionally dubious bills from advancing. There would certainly be legal consequences if they do manage to get signed into law.
"Both bills are clearly unconstitutional, ironically enough," Anjali Abraham of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Arizona told the Republic. "You can't require students to attend school... and then require them to either pledge allegiance to the flag or swear this loyalty oath in order to graduate. It's a violation of the First Amendment."
This is far from the first time that Arizona lawmakers have introduced-- and sometimes passed into law-- highly controversial measures.
Ethnic studies courses have been banned since 2011 in public schools in a state where Mexicans make up the single largest national ancestry group. Tucson schools even banned Shakespeare's "The Tempest" under this law. But a 2012 law required the State Board of Education to create an elective Bible studies course to be taught in public schools.
Last year, Gov. Jan Brewer signed a bill allowing employers to interrogate female workers about their sexual practices and fire those who use birth control for non-medical purposes into law.
In a related measure, the state Senate last year also approved a measure that allows doctors to lie to pregnant female patients about prenatal problems if they believe divulging such information would increase the likelihood that she would opt for an abortion.
In February 2012, Senate Republicans sponsored a bill that would ban any "non G-rated speech" by teachers and college professors both in and outside the classroom.
Arizona lawmakers even banned karma-- along with Islamic Sharia law and other "bodies of religious sectarian law" in 2011.
Then there's the state's notorious SB 1070 "show me your papers" law targeting undocumented immigrants or anyone police believe looks like one, a law it was later revealed was racially motivated.
And finally, just last week Rep. Steve Smith, who is sponsoring the Pledge of Allegiance bill, introduced HB 2293, which would require hospitals to verify the immigration status of uninsured patients seeking medical care.