SALT LAKE CITY — A House debate about Utah public school classrooms having to recite the Pledge of Allegiance every day drew patriotic speeches, some warnings and a little anger.
"People are being taught to be ashamed to be an American. We should be proud to be an American," said Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, adding there's an obligation to instill patriotism in children.
"If we don't do this, we could lose this country."
Those words riled Rep. Lynn Hemingway, D-Salt Lake, who called Sandstrom's speech over the top.
"Whether it's forced or not, I don't think anyone in this body takes the pledge lightly," he said.
The House on Tuesday approved SB223 making the pledge mandatory in every Utah public school classroom every day. The bill, which previously passed in the Senate, goes to Gov. Gary Herbert for consideration. His spokeswoman said the governor will review it when it lands on his desk.
State law currently calls for elementary school students to say the pledge each day, while high school and junior high and middle school students must do it once a week at the beginning of a day.
Now, they would have to do it daily and be led by a student in the class selected by the teacher on a rotating basis.
"It mirrors almost exactly what we do in the Legislature every day we're in session," said Rep. Bill Wright, R-Holden.
Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake, questions whether "we're instilling greater reverence for the flag with rote behavior in the classroom."
Reciting the pledge daily, especially among high school and junior high students, might create a greater likelihood to disrespect the flag, he said.
Children, King said, have to learn for themselves what the Pledge of Allegiance means without it "being drilled into them in a compulsory way."
Rep. Jim Bird, R-West Jordan, said the bill does not contain money for an inevitable lawsuit.
"I have an issue with this bill because if we pass the bill, a lawsuit will come," he said.
Rep. David Litvack, D-Salt Lake, he worries refugee students won't understand what the pledge means and would feel excluded.
State law already allows students to be excused from reciting the pledge with a note from their parents or legal guardian.
SB223 would require schools to once a year instruct students that the pledge is voluntary and that it is acceptable to opt out for religious or other reasons. Schools would further teach that students should show respect for those who choose not to participate.