Oregon panel OKs bill requiring daily Pledge of Allegiance in schools

A legislative committee voted unanimously Friday for a bill requiring the Pledge of Allegiance to be recited daily in Oregon public classrooms.

Under state law, schools must give students the opportunity to say the Pledge of Allegiance at least once a week. The bill passed by the House Education Committee would require schools to do so daily, and to have an employee or student lead the recital.

Students can't be compelled to say the pledge, and the bill wouldn't change that.

Supporters say the pledge is an important part of civic education. Critics say requiring time each day for the pledge would further ostracize students who don't participate because of religious or other reasons.

Rep. Sal Esquivel, a Republican from Medford and the bill's chief sponsor, said he believes the Pledge of Allegiance teaches students about the nation's legacy.

"We need to teach kids the symbolism of that flag," Esquivel said. "That flag stands for America. That flag stands for your freedoms. That flag stands for everything this country's ever done, has been or will be in the future."

The bill, which moves to the House, would also require each classroom to display the American flag. Currently, Oregon law requires that a flag be displayed at or near a school building.

Specifically, Esquivel has targeted his grandson's school, the Madrone Trail Public Charter School, for not flying the American flag. He also said the Medford charter school doesn't teach the Pledge of Allegiance to young students.

Joseph Frodsham, the charter school's director, said he has reservations about making young students take a pledge that they don't fully understand.

"We are not anti-American, or anything of that nature," Frodsham said. "There's concern that in the lower grades, we're asking them to do something that they don't understand."

He confirmed that the school does not fly an American flag, but he said he displays a flag in his school office.

Oregon law does not specify whether charter schools are covered under the current requirement that the flag be displayed at or near school buildings. Esquivel's bill specifically includes them.

Oregon schools have adopted differing practices on when and where students say the pledge each week.

Spokeswoman Christine Miles said students in the Portland school district recite the Pledge of Allegiance in the classroom each Monday. Students who do not wish to participate are asked to be respectful of others, and may choose to sit or stand quietly, or remove themselves from the classroom, Miles said.

The Beaverton School District has a similar policy, except there is no designated day, said spokeswoman Maureen Wheeler.

Standard practice for reciting the pledge in Oregon schools is to have students stand facing the flag with their right hands placed over their hearts.

Two words in the pledge have sparked controversy: "under God."

Dissenters say they are uncomfortable reciting the Pledge of Allegiance for religious and other reasons. For example, members of the Jehovah's Witnesses denomination typically do not participate in saying the pledge.

"It is callous for the government to force schoolchildren of minority faiths to isolate themselves from their classmates to avoid participating in a religious exercise in violation of their conscience," Becky Straus, a lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, said in testimony.

Straus said choosing to dissent from classmates is already a delicate situation for young students, and the bill would make that decision more difficult.

A landmark 1943 Supreme Court case brought by a member of Jehovah's Witnesses upheld a student's right not to participate in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.