Rep. Bob Phalen’s bill that tells school trustees to make sure students grades three through 12 “receive instruction about the United States Constitution and the Pledge of Allegiance” got a green light Wednesday in the House Education Committee.
“We owe it to each generation to teach in public schools what it means to be an American citizen,” said Phalen, a Lindsay Republican, to the committee.
Committee members voted 11-6 to pass the bill, which, as drafted, requires students from kindergarten through high school to recite the Pledge of Allegiance every day in school. It also notes the recitation “may be followed by a moment of silence.”
Some people who testified opposed the bill because they had terrible experiences resisting requirements to say the Pledge of Allegiance. Josh Butterly said he has much reverence for the U.S. Constitution and the flag, and he honors his relatives who have served in the military. But, when he was in school in Great Falls, he was spanked for not saying the pledge.
“I was taken into the principal’s office, and the paddle that they had at that time with the holes in it, you know I was beaten with that,” Butterfly said.
Already, though, Chair Rep. Seth Berglee, R-Joliet, said schools are required to let students and teachers know they have the right to not participate in the pledge. And any student who objects must be excused.
Laurie Little Dog said the current requirement for students in grades seven through 12 to recite the pledge once a week is sufficient, and imposing more recitations could weaken the pledge. Plus, she said people need to be encouraged to think critically.
“What that flag represents to Native people is continued genocide,” Little Dog said.
Dennis Parman, representing the six statewide partners that are part of the Montana Public Education Center, said the group unanimously opposed the bill, even as the members strongly support the spirit behind it.
“We believe that knowing what the U.S. Constitution says and what it does not say is probably never more important than it is today,” said Parman, head of the Montana Rural Education Association.
But he said the Board of Public Education and local trustees decide what is taught in schools, and the bill would create an exception solely focused on teaching the U.S. Constitution and the Pledge of Allegiance.
At the same time, he said public schools already are teaching students lessons that progress as they move up from one grade to the next. Children learn about citizenship, then functions of government, later the Montana and U.S. constitutions, and eventually the duties of all three branches of government.
The bill is concerning because it is among the legislation the legislature has taken up this session that displays “an apparent disregard” for the constitutional authority of a locally elected board of trustees, he said.
McCall Flynn, executive director of the Montana Board of Public Education, said she concurred with the arguments Parman had presented.
Ruth Rater, though, praised the bill as well as the effects the Pledge of Allegiance had on her own life. She said she’s one of the last generations in her family to have had to take a government class in order to graduate from high school: “I find that sad.”
“To stop teaching the Pledge of Allegiance is to stop teaching who we are as a country,” Ratar said. “But sometimes, that’s what the end game is on the other side.”