The Minnesota Senate passed a bill Thursday that would require students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in school at least once a week. Supporters say the bill would help teach patriotism to children, but opponents say the state shouldn't force students to recite the pledge.
Lawmakers have been debating the measure for months, and at least one senator has received hostile letters for attempting to amend the legislation. Officials with Gov. Ventura's office say the bill could face a veto.
The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 54-8, after debating it about a month ago and not voting. The bill would require that all public and charter school students recite the Pledge of Allegiance at least once a week. It would also require schools to teach lessons about civics and proper flag etiquette. Students and teachers would be able to opt out of the pledge if they choose.
Sen. Mady Reiter, R-Shoreview, says she proposed the bill after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11. Reiter, who often wears patriotic outfits like American flag scarves, says the bill would teach children patriotism. She says too many children are growing up without properly learning American history.
"For a long time, we've taken everything for granted in the United States of America," says Reiter. "Our children were not learning all that they should have about our history. About what's gone before us and how important freedom is."
Reiter says she's received dozens of letters from Minnesotans who support the measure, but the bill has also generated animosity. When the legislation was debated a month ago, Sen. Mee Moua, DFL-St. Paul, offered an amendment that would have required educators to explain that children who don't want to recite the Pledge of Allegiance aren't necessarily unpatriotic. At the time, Moua said she worried that students who chose not to recite the pledge could be bullied or teased by other students.
Her amendment passed and the Senate author withdrew the bill. Since then, Moua says she's received several racist and hostile letters from people angry about her amendment. Moua, who is the nation's first Hmong legislator, read portions of the letters on the Senate floor.
"Hopefully, you can teach your son and other family members to properly recite the Pledge of Allegiance with great appreciation for what you have been given," Moua read. "In your spare time, I suggest you and your family volunteer to help out at the veteran's hospital, in gratitude from those who saved you and yours from the rice paddies in Southeast Asia."
Moua said the letter reinforced her determination to add the amendment to help teach students about cultural differences. Many lawmakers voiced their disappointment with the letters, and the Senate approved her motion.
Opponents of the legislation said the state shouldn't require children to recite the pledge. Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, says you can't force children to learn patriotism.
"I remain proud to say the pledge when we say it here. I remain proud of the flag. But it's partly that same reason that makes me convinced that the worst thing that we can do is mandate the saying of the pledge in the schools," Marty said.
"The governor has a libertarian side to him, and he feels it is very difficult to legislate patriotism. Patriotism - from the governor - comes from the heart and the mind."
- Gov. Ventura's spokesman John Wodele
"If you do want to teach patriotism, if you do want to teach any values - the way you don't do it is by mandating something. You do it by teaching through example and I think that's the way we ought to do it."
Other lawmakers like Sen. Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, say the pledge will help bring the country together. Johnson is a chaplain in the National Guard. He says mandating the pledge would help improve the nation's values.
"I see the Pledge of Allegiance as bringing about a common purpose...what it means to be an American. And being an American means we can believe all kinds of things about our religious faith, about our philosophy of government, about how we see our government and its operation," Johnson said.
The House has already passed similar legislation. The two sides will need to negotiate their differences in a conference committee before the bill goes to Gov. Ventura. Ventura spokesman John Wodele says the governor may veto it.
"Everyone knows that the governor has a libertarian side to him, and he feels it is very difficult to legislate patriotism. Patriotism - from the governor - comes from the heart and the mind, so I don't know if he would look favorably on a mandate such as this," Wodele said.
Even if Ventura decides to veto the bill, both bodies passed the measure with a veto-proof majority.More Information