Five go mad in Arizona with a bill denying students graduation if they refuse to take a God oath

JUST when you thought the upper slopes of Mount Insanity had been reached by New Mexico’s Cathrynn Brown with her “hold onto the foetus for evidence” bill, five Republican legislators are proposing a bill that would prevent students from graduating if they fail to take the following oath:

I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose or evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge these duties; so help me God.

Rep. Sonny Borrelli is one of five sponsors of the bill

Rep. Sonny Borrelli is one of five sponsors of the bill

Sponsored by Republican state Representatives Bob Thorpe, Sonny Borrelli, Carl Seel, T J Shope, and Steve Smith, not only would the bill require public high school students to swear the oath, but:

Before a pupil is allowed to graduate from a public high school in this state, the principal or head teacher of the school shall verify in writing that the pupil has recited the oath.

They are sponsoring House Bill 2467 in the Legislature. If passed, it would make the loyalty oath a prerequisite for graduation from any public high school in Arizona starting with the 2013-14 school year.

The Phoenix Business Journal’s Mike Sunnucks say that:

Arizona has developed a penchant for political stances that spark legal and policy battles that sometimes hurt the state’s image among Hispanics, young people, tourists and businesses.

And he points out that the wording sounds somewhat similar to oaths of office taken by members of Congress and the US president, and that some states have required public employees, including school teachers, to take or sign similar oaths.

From an economic development and tourism perspective, if the issue somehow takes off, it could write another unflattering chapter in Arizona’s book.

He added that Jehovah’s witnesses, some Muslims and pacifist Quakers have in the past challenged loyalty oaths imposed by the federal government and other agencies, saying they conflict with their beliefs and religious professions. Similarly, some Arizona students could challenge the proposed high school oath as a violation of their religious liberties and freedom of expression.

Kevin Bondelli, on his blog, writes:

Taking for granted how unnecessary such an oath is, let’s just look at how ridiculous it is on a technical level.

First, graduating high school is not the same thing as voluntarily accepting the responsibility of a public office or admission to the legal bar. A high school diploma is, with extremely few exceptions, required to have a chance to live above the poverty level. It is the culmination of an education that up until that point was compulsory. That makes the ‘that I take this obligation freely’ line of the oath dishonest at best.

Saying that the school district will deny granting a diploma to a student who has completed all of the requirements for that diploma unless they swear an oath is both somewhat extortionary and antithetical to an oath freely given.

Second, this is an oath that would be required for public high school students. I am fairly certain requiring a public high school student to swear an oath to God to graduate would violate the First Amendment of the Constitution that they are trying to force these students to swear to support and defend. This paradoxically means that in order to actually support and defend the Constitution, you have to refuse to take this oath to support and defend the Constitution.

As a graduate of a public high school in Arizona, I find this bill appalling. Just add this to the massive list of embarrassments Arizona Republicans have inflicted on the state.

Hat tip: Pete H & John C