Editorial: Proposed loyalty oath violates high school students' rights

A new bill introduced in the Arizona House of Representatives would require all high school students wishing to graduate to recite a "loyalty oath" to the U.S. Constitution in order to receive their diploma.

House Bill 2467 would require high school students to recite more or less the same oath that the president and vice president of the U.S. take upon assuming those offices.

One must "solemnly swear" to "support and defend" the Constitution "freely," "so help me God."

Another bill, House Bill 2284, would make saying the Pledge of Allegiance mandatory for all public school students, from kindergarten to high school. The Pledge of Allegiance is currently optional, but HB 2284 would change the language of Arizona Revised Statute 15-506 from "those students who wish" to recite the Pledge of Allegiance to "pupils" and would allow an exception for students whose parents do not wish for them to participate. Very generous. Many graduating high school students are still minors and should not be required to swear an oath or pledge allegiance. Such loyalty is meant to be exercised out of one's own wish to do so and should not be compelled by a state legislator.

Making graduation contingent on swearing an oath is on shaky constitutional grounds and would not likely hold up in a court challenge. Why expend the effort and the money on a bill that will have little real-world impact?

If a high school graduate happens to go on and serve in public office, such an oath would be entirely appropriate.

But that is certainly not the case for every high school graduate. He or she might admire the document and enjoy the rights it guarantees, but what reason does the typical graduate have to "defend" the Constitution?

Arizona Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff, said reciting the oath would "inspire (students) to learn more about our Constitutional form of government."

One would hope that students who had an interest in the "Constitutional form of government" might be able to learn about it in history and government classes.

In a state ranked 44 out of 51 (including the District of Columbia) in education, according to "Education Week's" Quality Counts initiative, it seems odd to think that requiring loyalty oaths should be legislators' first priorities.

If state legislators hopes to instill a reverence for the Constitution, they might want to start with abiding by the Constitution themselves.


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