By J.L. Schmidt - Statehouse Correspondent, The Nebraska Press Association
There’s no argument that patriotism in post 9-11 America remains at a fever pitch, as well it should in light of the continuing loss of American soldiers’ lives in a handful of battles in far away places.
So it comes as no surprise that the State Board of Education has unanimously approved a change to Rule 10 (accreditation standards tied to state aid) that would require schools to set aside time for students and faculty to recite a long-standing patriotic icon, The Pledge of Allegiance. Generations of Nebraska students have participated in the ritual – usually at the start of each new school day – without any apparent ill effects.
This, in spite of the fact that Nebraska is one of seven states, the District of Columbia and two territories that do not have a law that addresses the pledge. Lincoln businessman Richard Zierke, a Marine, stumbled on the “no law” fact and approached state Sen. Tony Fulton of Lincoln during the last legislative session to address the matter. Fulton’s bill died in committee.
Omaha attorney Mark Quandahl, a former state senator who is now vice president of the State education board, suggested the rule change. Board President Jim Scheer deemed the matter important enough that “it should come from the state level.” The board agreed and adopted the rule change August 10.
The attorney general and the governor must still give their approval. If they do, the change could become effective sometime this school year. Teachers say many classes already say the pledge daily in the presence of a flag. Students can opt to stand or sit silently as long as they respect those who wish to participate.
Opponents say that school districts should not be told what to do, that it’s a local decision. State Board member Bob Evnen, a Lincoln attorney, said the rule was written to comply with the U.S. Constitution, hence the individual’s option to NOT recite the pledge.
ACLU of Nebraska legal director, Amy Miller, said she is disappointed by the board’s decision to change the rule, but said it’s apparently constitutional even though it could give school officials the wrong impression that they can bully students and teachers to participate. She admitted that her organization receives only one or two complaints a year, and they are quickly resolved when she shows school officials the law that they can’t be required to participate.
Proponents say it’s all about respect. And we should expect the same respect from the opposition as they are being granted by the option to not recite the pledge.
Of Note: The Pledge of Allegiance was written and first recited in 1892. A Baptist preacher from New York, Francis Bellamy, was serving as chairman of a committee of state superintendents of education in the National Education Association when he wrote the piece in honor of the 400th anniversary of Columbus Day.
The original wording, “I pledge allegiance to my flag” was changed in 1924 to “the flag of the United States of America.” Congress added the words “under God” in 1954. Way back in 1943, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that schools couldn’t require students to recite the pledge.