A bill in the Arizona state house would require public school students to swear an oath to defend the constitution in order to receive their diplomas.
Arizona bill HB 2467 was sponsored by Republican Rep. Bob Thorpe, who told Current that the idea for the legislation came out of a campaign event and was a response to constituents who are concerned about patriotism and the Constitution. He said that the goal was to get students interested in learning about the constitutional form of government and defending the Constitution.
"The reason behind this is meant to be a positive experience, not a negative experience," Thorpe said.
But as currently written, the bill can be seen as a violation of the First Amendment, based on current case law that has challenged policies that students recite the pledge of allegiance. Alessandra Soler, executive director of the ACLU of Arizona told Current that this proposal would likely be found to violate free speech rights of students.
"Students have a right to free speech, a right to stay silent, a right to go to school," said Soler. "It's cynical and ironic that they are promoting allegiance to the Constitution by requiring an oath in the face of crumbling schools and dwindling education funds. Rather than make increases to budgets, they're assuming an oath will teach students about the Constitution."
Thorpe objected to the idea that he bill is unconstitutional, citing the fact that the First Amendment refers to Congress, not state legislatures, and that it does not silence students from speaking. He also noted that those serving in government or the military must take such an oath, as well as immigrants seeking to become U.S. citizens.
Thorpe, a first-time legislator, said he was surprised by the media reaction to the proposal.
"The idea that there's something evil about taking this oath seems to be a pretty ineffective argument," he said. "When you think about all the areas where people take this oath voluntarily."
Thorpe said he is planning on offering an amendment to the bill when it goes to committee that would make taking the oath optional rather than mandatory.