For all Broken Bow elementary students, the day begins with reciting the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag. However, like most schools in the state, that usually ends by the time the students hit middle school.
However, if State Senator Tony Fulton, of Lincoln, has his way - beginning the school day with the pledge will be a requirement for ALL students.
Legislative Bill 990 would require group recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools. It would also require every public school , as well as the University of Nebraska system, state colleges and community colleges, to display both the American flag and the Nebraska state flag in their classrooms.
All private schools, colleges and universities that receive state or federal funds would also fall under the requirement.
“Our flag is the primary symbol of the virtue of our forebears and the rich legacy that each prior generation of Americans has provided to us by their sacrifice,” says Fulton.
The bill would not mandate that any student recite the pledge or that any teacher lead it, as such requirements have been deemed unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Opponents of the bill, in particular the American Civil LIberties Union and the Academic Freedom Coalition of Nebraska, argue that patriotism should be voluntary and spontaneous, not a required activity. One Lincoln middle school students disagrees.
Andrew Shelburn, age 12, joined several military veterans, a State Board of Education member and two Lincoln businessmen in addressing a panel of state lawmakers last week, speaking in support of the bill.
Shelburn told the panel, “I don’t think people find it cool to show their patriotism anymore.”
Broken Bow Elementary Principal Kim Jonas says she is somewhat surprised by the fact that such legislation doesn't’ already exist in Nebraska, given the general conservative nature of the state. She says she believes most schools already have the practice in place, and if the bill passes it will have little if any effect on the majority of the state’s elementary schools.
BBHS Principal Ken Kujath says the middle school and high school students do not currently recite the Pledge of Allegiance, and he questions whether forcing the students to participate in the daily exercise would accomplish what Sen. Fulton is hoping. Kujath notes that he is not opposed to the idea, and the school would most certainly comply should the bill pass. However, he says he isn’t sure that making the students repeat the words would actually make them have greater respect for the flag and what it stands for.
Currently 43 states have laws that either require, encourage or permit students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in school. Of those, 35 have laws that specifically require daily recital.
The Iowa legislature is also considering a proposal similar to Nebraska’s.
Though there is not currently a law requiring students to recite the pledge, the state’s elementary schools are required to spend at least one hour each week teaching American history, singing the national anthem and other patriotic songs, and teaching reverence for the flag. American history must be taught to middle school students at least three periods each week for two years, and high school students are required to learn about the constitution and American government.
No immediate action was taken by the Education Committee on the bill.