The Arizona State Legislature is near a vote on a bill that would require elementary school children to memorize and recite a familiar passage before school each day. The passage which comes from the Declaration of Independence says:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
Like a similar bill in New Jersey, the Arizona recitation bill has attracted controversy. But unlike the New Jersey bill, which is opposed on the charge that America's founders were racists and sexists whose ideas ought not be taught to children, opponents in Arizona object to the bill's "coercion."
We should also note here a few other differences in the Arizona bill. The Declaration recitation part is actually an amendment to a bill that would have the state Board of Education draw up guidelines for teachers to instruct their charges in morals and ethics. It also includes a provision to say the Pledge of Allegiance.
The bill, which passed in Arizona's lower house last Monday, 32-27, goes to a conference committee to reconcile the house and senate variations. A liberal contingent fears that if the bill should pass — even a watered-down version that lets students to opt out of the recitations — it will invite a rash of lawsuits. The United States Supreme Court ruled in a famous West Virginia case that the government cannot coerce students to affirm loyalty to the United States.
But the most telling remark came from one legislator who opposes the bill: "How many things are we going to ask the schools to do?" How many indeed. With all the instruction in environmentalism, multiculturalism and general self-esteem building, what teacher has the time?
Jefferson outlined what he thought should be the goals of public education in America. Among other things, it should "give every citizen the information he needs for the transaction of his own business," "improve, by reading, his morals and faculties," and teach the citizen to "know his rights; to exercise with order and justice those he retains."
How do we expect all that to happen? By magic? Love and respect for the great American experiment in free government does not appear out of thin air. It is indeed a sign of the times that the people's representatives in Arizona and New Jersey cannot seem to agree on this.
The Claremont Institute's Director of Publications, Ben Boychuk, has written a commentary on the current events in Arizona. And if you would like to learn what the Declaration says and means, visit the Claremont Institute's companion site, Founding.com.
- Declaration Recitation?, Ben Boychuk