Pop quiz: If you mandate that Utah high school students say the Pledge of Allegiance weekly, you are: (A) violating the rights of students who don't believe in God or (B) encouraging patriotism.
No matter which position you take, a segment of Utah's population says you're wrong. Both viewpoints made a strong showing Tuesday morning in the Senate Education Committee as it considered SB105, a measure that would strengthen existing requirements that Utah schoolchildren say the Pledge. Current law encourages but does not mandate the Pledge in secondary schools. After an hour of testimony, the committee unanimously passed the bill out for further consideration on the Senate floor.
The bill's sponsor, Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, said he is convinced that the Pledge is not being recited in Utah's schools under the current provisions, despite testimony to the contrary. The Pledge, he said, is a confirmation of the principles on which America was founded and should be part of the education of every student.
"I have a hard time understanding why any American would have a problem with requiring public school children to say the Pledge of Allegiance," said Buttars.
But, once testimony was opened to the public, some did have a problem with it. Others thought the bill was unnecessary.
Chris Allen, representing the Society of Separationists, said that mandatory recitation of the Pledge, with its statement that America is a country "under God," makes it "official to believe in God."
"The government has no right to do that."
In the Pledge, he said, "God" is capitalized and singular, intimating one god. There are many who believe in multiple gods, or none at all, he said, adding that children who are forced by law to attend public schools should not be subjected to a single viewpoint regarding deity.
Said Buttars, "If the testimony you've heard (from those opposed) doesn't send a chill down your back, I don't know what will. We've allowed ourselves and our values to be pushed too far" by the minority opinion.
Shannon Strickland, a parent in the Granite School District, argued for Buttars' bill.
"Where are the patriots?" he asked, if public schools are not allowed to promulgate an essential and historic American belief. "Please do not take the right from my children to pledge allegiance."
Strickland said that his children are not reciting the Pledge regularly in their schools.
The bill allows those who choose not to say the Pledge to "opt out," but that is a difficult decision for teenagers, some speakers said.
Representatives of Utah's public school boards and superintendents said they believe the bill is not necessary. As currently written, the law puts schools on notice that reciting the Pledge is desirable. "It's happening without the 'shall,' " said Sarah Meier, a member of the Granite Board of Education and lobbyist for both the school boards and superintendents associations.
The committee passed the bill out favorably with little comment.