The Iowa House State Government passed a bill on Wednesday that would require schools to offer students the opportunity to recite the Pledge of Allegiance every day. It also requires the American Flag to be displayed during the Pledge.
Nearly everyone on the committee supported the bill, but Democrat Rep. Bruce Hunter spoke against it.
Hunter said he had concerns about students who might want to kneel during the Pledge of Allegiance. And what might happen to them should they decide to kneel during the Pledge.
Republican Rep. Carter Nordman told Hunter he doesn’t see the bill as a “political issue.”
“Nothing will happen to them,” he said.
No student would be required to participate.
“It’s going to turn into a political issue whether you like it or not,” Hunter said. “Because if somebody does that, I can almost guarantee that maybe not somebody from the political parties, maybe not somebody from the outside, but there are going to be people in that school, classmates, whatever, that are going to have problems with that.”
Hunter then said he knows the bill says students will recite it voluntarily, but noted that “in reality, it’s not voluntary.”
“Kids in grades kindergarten through 12th grade are probably some of the meanest people in the world,” Hunter said. “And this is coming from somebody that doesn’t have any kids.”
Hunter said any student who decides not to recite the Pledge will get bullied, intimidated and “everything under the sun” by their classmates until they involuntarily do the Pledge of Allegiance.
“That is reality,” Hunter said. “Now, if we’re doing the Pledge to teach patriotism, which I am assuming that’s probably the ultimate goal of this bill, I think there are other better ways to do it.”
Hunter said it’s important to teach kids about what makes America great, but also what America’s faults are.
“Patriotism, in my mind, is sticking up and saying that it’s not OK to kneel on our brothers for eight minutes until he is dead,” Hunter said. “Speaking up is being a patriot.”
Democrat Rep. Christina Bohannan, who refused to support the bill in subcommittee, ended up supporting it in committee.
“On the whole, I’m going to support this bill,” she said. “A lot of states already do this. Most states, overwhelming majority of states already do this.”
Bohannan said it is important to note no student will be compelled to participate.
“Under this law, whether students will participate in the Pledge of Allegiance is purely voluntary,” she said. “We can’t force them to say it and we sure can’t force them to feel it. If we want kids to feel it, we have to go beyond asking them to recite words about democracy and justice. We have to show them those words in action.
“We have to protect equal rights for every person, we have to ensure justice under the law, we have to uphold our democracy and respect the results of free and fair elections.”
Republican Rep. Jon Jacobsen said he appreciated Hunter’s concerns for civil liberties.
“I’m not quite as concerned about this tripping and becoming a threshold issue because kneeling usually connotates a prayer and that is something philosophically and vehemently opposed in our current culture of government schooling,” he said.
Nordman reiterated that Iowa is one of just a few states without the Pledge of Allegiance language in its state code.
“It is my belief that the Pledge of Allegiance is something that can unite all Americans,” he said.
The bill passed 20-1.
Republican Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, who chairs the committee, paid Hunter a “compliment.”
“I only know you that has the skillset to somehow make the Pledge as political as you just did,” Kaufmann said.