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Pledge of Allegiance a popular issue in statehouses this year

Friday, March 1, 2002

HARTFORD, Conn. -- Responding to the post-Sept. 11 burst of patriotism, state lawmakers around the country want to put the Pledge of Allegiance into more public schools.

Half the states now require the pledge as part of the school day, and half a dozen more recommend it, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. This year, bills to make the oath mandatory have been brought up in Connecticut, Illinois, Missouri, Minnesota, Colorado, Mississippi and Indiana.

In Connecticut, Republican state Rep. Philip Prelli said schools have gotten out of the practice.

"It comes back to teaching what our country stands for," he said.

The Connecticut Civil Liberties Union opposed Prelli's bill at a hearing on Monday.

"Patriotism isn't something you have to put on the books," executive director Teresa Younger said.

"It's something that happens when your government is taking care of its people," according to Younger.

In Missouri, a pledge bill that died three years ago "suddenly started picking up a lot more traction" after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, said sponsor Sen. Ted House, a Democrat.

The Missouri bill would require public school students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance at least once a week and allow for objectors to be excused.

It passed the state Senate 30-0 on Monday.

"It's a quick and easy way to start thinking about what it is to be an American," House said.

The Minnesota House on Wednesday passed a bill that would require the pledge at least once a week in public schools.

A similar movement is under way to post the motto "In God We Trust" in schools. Michigan passed a law in December that makes it clear that the motto can be hung in schools. Florida, Utah, Arizona, Virginia, Louisiana and New Jersey are considering similar legislation.

In October, school board members in Madison, Wis., were the targets of a patriotic backlash after three members voted against schools' using the pledge as a way to fulfill a required daily moment of patriotism. The board later voted to allow schools to offer the pledge.

Earlier this month, Colorado's Senate Judiciary Committee killed a Republican-sponsored bill requiring students to recite the pledge. Democrats said forcing students to do so could cause eventually cause them to become jaded about their country.


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