***Update*** (1/27/14): Just wanted to let everyone know the bill died a while back. Providing the update since this post still gets a lot of views.
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.
To quote Comedy Central’s Ilya Gerner: “Nothing says ‘I take this obligation freely’ quite like a state law that withholds your diploma unless you swear an oath.”
Kevin Bondelli adds:
… graduating high school is not the same thing as voluntarily accepting the responsibility of a public office or admission to the legal bar. A high school diploma is, with extremely few exceptions, required to have a chance to live above the poverty level. It is the culmination of an education that up until that point was compulsory.
It’s bad enough the Republicans are demanding loyalty of the kind normally reserved for members of Congress and beyond — but there’s also no way I would say those last four words, and the current text of the legislation does not allow for any alternatives.
In other words, if this bill were to become a law, atheists would either not be allowed to graduate… or they would be forced to lie so they could graduate. Neither option is acceptable.
Mike Sunnucks of the Phoenix Business Journal points out another problem:
The Arizona bill could also face legal challenges if it is approved.
Jehovah’s witnesses, some Muslims and pacifist Quakers have in the past challenged loyalty oaths imposed by the federal government and other agencies, saying they conflict with their beliefs and religious professions. Similarly, some Arizona students could challenge the proposed high school oath as a violation of their religious liberties and freedom of expression.
Smith and Shope have also introduced legislation demanding that all students in grades 1-12 recite the Pledge of Allegiance (with “Under God”) every day. At least in that bill, students can get out of saying it with their parents’ permission.
No such exemption exists in the Loyalty Oath.
Keep in mind that in both cases, the bills do not help children get a better education. That’s the saddest thing about all this. The people who are in charge of fixing the education crisis are proposing solutions that would only waste more classroom time and exclude many students from graduating despite fulfilling their current requirements.
***Update***: While the bill still includes the God language, Think Progress reports that it may be revised:
As written, the bill does not exempt atheist students or those of different faiths from the requirement, though Thorpe has pledged to amend the measure. “In that we had a tight deadline for dropping our bills, I was not able to update the language,” he wrote in an e-mail to the Arizona Republic. “Even though I want to encourage all of our students to understand and respect our Constitution and constitutional form of government, I do not want to create a requirement that students or parents may feel uncomfortable with.”
So it’s possible alternative language may solve the atheist problem, but *requiring* students to take the oath still poses a host of constitutional issues. Another option would be to make the oath optional, but that would make this bill completely irrelevant.
Which would be fine by me.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Brian for the link)