Bill requiring U.S. flags in state public schools is likely to pass

But provision for a daily pledge of allegiance is gone

A bill by state Rep. Sal Esquivel requiring American flags in classrooms of every public school, including charter schools, apparently will become law, but a requirement for a daily pledge of allegiance to the flag has been written out of the legislation.

The pledge instead will remain a weekly "opportunity," following passage of a Senate version of Esquivel's bill, which first passed in the House.

Esquivel, a Medford Republican, wanted to revamp an existing state law so that charter schools, in addition to general public schools, would be required to display the U.S. flag in all classrooms.

Esquivel pushed that requirement after finding that his grandsons' Madrone Trail Charter School was not displaying flags in the classroom.

The existing flag law was written before there were charter schools, says Esquivel, so they weren't covered. Now they are.

"We got what we wanted, to fly the flag in all classrooms and pledge yourself to it once a week," says Esquivel. "We did not anticipate we'd get a daily pledge. You always ask for more than you want and be happy with what you get."

The House passed the measure 42-16, with daily pledges included. All the opposing votes were Democrats. The Senate amended it to weekly pledges and passed it Wednesday, 28-2, with two Democrats in opposition.

Esquivel said Friday he has "signed off" on the amended bill, meaning there will be no committee meetings on it. It will get a floor vote and passage is expected Monday.

The bill was inspired by Rogue River High School student Chandler Cort, who circulated petitions among parents and school board members to have the pledge recited weekly. Despite the law, the pledge had fallen into disuse, but now, says Esquivel, is performed weekly on schools' public address systems.

Esquivel was further inspired by what he described as the "refusal" of Madrone Trail Charter School to say the pledge or to display flags in classrooms, he said on Fox News in April. His grandsons attend the school and, he notes, were unable to recite the pledge.

Present law requires flags only at or near the school, but not in classes.

Sen. Alan Bates, a Medford Democrat, voted for the altered bill because, "It's appropriate to respect the flag and build a sense of citizenship.

"It's not every day," said Bates, who called the bill a good compromise. "Once a week is enough — and if you don't feel like saying 'under God,' then just hold your breath for that."

The American Civil Liberties Union had contested the bill, saying it poses an issue for children of minority faiths who decline to say the pledge because of its reference to God.

"The 'under God' has nothing to do with this," said Esquivel. "That would have to change on the federal level. Kids have the option not to stand and do the pledge. I'm sorry the ACLU is in a different world and different reality. No one is going to intimidate anyone for not standing and doing the pledge."

Legislators take turns leading the pledge and at the start of the session in January, Rep. Carol Tomei, D-Milwaukie, changed the wording and said "one nation, under love." After that, the podium microphone was turned off for the pledge.

"If that's what Carol Tomei wants to say, that's up to her," Esquivel said.

The bill "isn't going to cost them (schools) anything," said Esquivel, because schools can get free flags from veterans and political and other organizations.

Esquivel added that a bill should not be necessary, as schools get public funds and "should adhere to the law."

Cort said the present law was being misinterpreted by his school principal in Rogue River, who took it to mean that a flag was required on campus, but nothing more. In addition, no one led the pledge, he adds.

"I would rather it be once a week, observed, than once a day, overlooked," said Cort. "I would prefer it be led by staff or a student. The process worked and was fun, though it has flaws."

The Oregon ACLU plans no challenge of the new law and is pleased it was amended to remove the daily pledge and the requirement that it be led by a student or school employee, said Legislative Director Becky Straus.

"We're fine with it. We feel that "under God" leaves Oregon vulnerable to challenge under the religious freedom section of the state constitution because students feel forced to separate themselves because of their religious or political beliefs," Straus said, adding, "Dissent should be celebrated."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.


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