Pledge of Allegiance Bill Sails Through House

Pledge of Allegiance Bill Sails Through House

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A proposed law that would require Utah's high school and junior high students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance was overwhelmingly approved by the state House of Representatives Wednesday.

The measure has sailed through the Utah Legislature. By a vote of 63-4, the representatives joined state senators who had earlier approved the bill by a 23-3 vote. It will now go to the governor for his signature.

Once signed into law, the measure would force junior and high schools to set aside time every week for the pledge. That's an option now for those schools.

The bill also allows students to opt out of saying the pledge with a parent's permission.

Current Utah law mandates the pledge only in elementary schools. House supporters of the bill passionately quoted Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Eisenhower as well as former prisoner of war Arizona Sen. John McCain.

Lehi Republican Rep. David Cox, a school teacher, was one of the four lawmakers who voted against the bill. He said this legislation "takes us away from the things we need to be doing."

He also said that he didn't want the Utah Legislature to become a "super school board that dictates every little thing schools have to do. This further makes public schools the government schools and I don't want government schools."

But Republican Rep. Margaret Dayton of Orem, who sponsored the bill in the House, said it is an important way to ensure patriotism.

"The rights and desires of the majority are upheld and the rights and desires of the minority are respected in this bill," she said. "I think we sometimes worry too much about stepping on people's toes. I think political correctness has run amok in this country."

Rep. David Litvack, D-Salt Lake City, said students who opt out of the pledge may be ostracized by their peers and teachers.

"I can't think of a scarier or more dangerous label at this time, as we consider whether to go to war, than to be unpatriotic," he said.

Since the 2001 terror attacks, at least 26 states have rushed to adopt or strengthen pledge laws in public schools, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

And last June a federal appeals court in San Francisco ruled that public schools couldn't use it because of the phrase "under God." That phrase was added in 1954 by Congress to a Baptist minister's 23-word homily for an 1892 edition of "The Youth's Companion" magazine in Boston.

In the 2-1 decision, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the phrase amounted to a government endorsement of religion in violation of the Constitution's Establishment Clause, which requires a separation of church and state.

The full appeals court is reconsidering that ruling. "I would like to remind us all that even a cursory look at our history reminds us that this is a Christian nation. Judeo-Christian principles are the bedrock of this nation," Dayton said.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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