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March 10: (Kenai) Peninsula Clarion on mandating the Pledge of Allegiance:

Posted: Monday, March 13, 2000

At the risk of having our patriotism questioned, we question the need for the Alaska State Legislature to pass a bill requiring the Pledge of Allegiance to be recited on a regular basis in public schools.

While the bill also requires school districts to inform students, teachers and other staff of their right not to participate, ''requiring'' the pledge seems to fly in the face of those individual rights we hold so dear in this country.

The intent of the bill is innocent enough: ''... to standardize pledge of allegiance policies among the state's public schools and school systems, and to (e)nsure that this basic civic function is held on a regular basis at all grade levels of Alaska's public schools,'' according to a statement by the bill's sponsor, Rep. Jeannette James, R-North Pole.

Nevertheless, the measure may have some unintended -- harmful -- side effects.

For one, patriotism can't be legislated any more than morality can. Saying the pledge is no barometer of a person's love of country. In fact, requiring the pledge sounds more like a dictatorship than a democracy.

Plus, mandating the recitation of the pledge minimizes its meaning. Is it truly a ''pledge of allegiance'' if it's required?

Any time a governing body ''requires'' something, there's an element of coercion. Will kids and educators say the pledge because they want to and because they mean it, or are they saying the pledge because someone said it's required of them?

For another, while the bill is clear that the right not to participate in saying the pledge may not be used to evaluate a student or employee, the fact is it could have an effect on how individuals are perceived. Those who choose not to participate for religious, political, cultural or personal reasons will be singled out, like it or not. It's possible unfair assumptions will be made about those who don't say the pledge.

It goes without saying that children should be taught the pledge and its meaning. It can only be hoped that they will embrace its words and be inspired to work toward its lofty goal of ''... one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.''

But making them say the pledge won't make them patriotic citizens. In fact, it's far more likely regular recitation of the pledge could dull the meaning of the words.

There's another reason the bill makes us uncomfortable: It's just not necessary.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, for example, already has in place a board policy which states: ''The School Board encourages activities that instill pride in our country. The Pledge of Allegiance shall be recited or patriotic exercises conducted each day. The district respects the legal right of individuals not to participate in the salute to the flag for personal reasons.''

As far as we can tell, other school districts in the state have similar policies and practices.

So, the measure boils down to some flag waving on the part of legislators.

This is not a burning issue with Alaskans.

The budget is a burning issue. Subsistence is a burning issue. Continuation of the permanent fund dividend program is a burning issue. The ability to provide Alaska's young people with a quality education is a burning issue. Affordable health care is a burning issue.

But regular recitation of the pledge in public schools?

Do legislators really think this is the kind of thing Alaskans want them to spend their time in Juneau doing? If so, they're more out of touch than we've dared believe.

Legislators have pressing business before them. Taking side trips with unnecessary legislation like the Pledge of Allegiance bill does nothing to help complete that pressing business -- or instill confidence that legislators are truly doing the people's business.



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