Missouri Requires Pledge in Public Schools at Least Once a Week

The Pledge of Allegiance must be recited every week in Missouri's public schools under a bill signed into law Wednesday, a week after a panel of federal judges ruled the pledge unconstitutional.

State lawmakers had passed the bill before the ruling was issued, and Gov. Bob Holden said it didn't affect his decision to sign.

"This is a symbolic gesture that we as a state believe in the Pledge of Allegiance and its values and that we hold those values dear to our heart," Holden said. "I think that court decision will be overturned."

In their June 26 decision, three judges from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the pledge phrase "one nation under God" amounted to a government endorsement of religion, violating the separation of church and state. That ruling, which applies to nine Western states and not Missouri, has been stayed until other members of the court have a chance to weigh in.

Under the Missouri law, effective Aug. 28, public schools must ensure the pledge is recited weekly in a scheduled class of every student, but students cannot be required to participate.

Holden brushed aside suggestions that children who don't participate would be ostracized.

"I think the point here is that this is a way for them to all understand what it means to be an American," he said.

The bill's sponsor, Democratic Sen. Ted House, said the legislation was prompted partly by his concern that many Missouri schools were moving away from reciting the pledge.

"These are state schools, they receive public money and I think the Legislature should set the public policy of indicating that public schools will offer the Pledge of Allegiance to students," House said.

In Illinois on Wednesday, Gov. George Ryan signed into law a requirement that public high schools lead students in the pledge every day. State law already mandated that elementary schools set aside time for the pledge. Neither law requires that students participate in the pledge or punishes them if they refuse.