N.H. Senate wants Pledge in schools

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I was honored to prime sponsor legislation that gave every student in NH the opportunity to say the Pledge. I found that 60% of NH schools weren’t doing it. The bill was killed twice in committee but with the help of my co-sponsors ( all were in major battles in the Pacific in WW2) we passed it into law. Sadly, as you know, all our WW2 veterans have passed. But their legacy lives on. I am most proud to have called them my friends.

After a heated and lengthy debate in which senators fought passionately about patriotism, the separation of church and state and freedom of speech, the New Hampshire Senate passed a controversial bill last week requiring public schools to set aside time each day for students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

The bill is an amendment to an older statute that supports the voluntary recitation of the Pledge of the Allegiance and the Lord’s Prayer. While the proposed law reserves time only for the Pledge, it does not eliminate the language advocating recitation of the Christian prayer.

The version of the bill that passed in the House on April 4 required all students to stand during the recitation of the pledge, though they could choose to stay silent. The Senate’s amended version makes both standing and saying the pledge optional.

The bill’s sponsor in the House, Rep. Frank Sapareto (R-Derry), said he put forth the bill because the state needs to encourage students’ natural patriotic instincts.

“Right now, there are students in this state who desperately want to say the pledge and who are not allowed to,” he said.

Although freedom to say or not say the pledge was a matter of some controversy, senators who voted against the final bill said that the sticking point for them was the bill’s failure to eliminate the language condoning the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, something they see as blatantly unconstitutional.

The U.S. Supreme Court has made it clear that explicitly condoning one specific religion in a school setting violates the separation of church and state and is therefore unconstitutional.

Sapareto said that the bill improves upon the old statute by putting the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer and Pledge of Allegiance into different parts of the law, thereby ensuring the separation of church and state.

“Years ago a mistake was made that linked the saying of the Lord’s Prayer with the Pledge of Allegiance,” Sapareto said, “Now that has been rectified — there is absolutely no connection between the two.”

Yet Sapareto’s opponents, both in the House and in the Senate, say that any official sanction of a certain religion should not be part of the state law at all.

“Senators take an oath of office to support the constitution,” said Sen. Clifton Below ’78, a Lebanon Democrat. “This bill just reenacts an unconstitutional law when in fact the responsible thing to do would have been to repeal that law entirely.”

Those who voted for the bill argued that both the prayer and the pledge are voluntary, and do more to promote freedom of speech and religion than to hamper them.

Others questioned the legitimacy of aiming to keep religion out of the classroom. According to several senators, Republican Sen. Russell Prescott told them during the debate, “The separation of church and state is a lie.”

Sapareto also said he thinks it is hypocritical for the state to require that the court stand when a judge enters a courtroom, but not be required to stand to show their respect for their nation.

“I would like this paradox clarified,” he said, “I certainly don’t think some judge is above the symbol of our nation.”

The bill passed in the Senate 16-8, with the majority of Republicans voting for and the most Democrats voting against. If the Senate can get the House to agree to the amended version, Gov. Jeanne Shaheen will sign the bill into law, said the governor’s press secretary, Pamela Walsh.

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