State lawmakers are apparently very concerned about displays of patriotism by students in Michigan. The state Senate recently passed a bill that would require all public schools to recite the Pledge of Allegiance each school day. The bill is an attack on free speech in Michigan’s public schools, and Republican Gov. Rick Snyder should not allow it to become law.

In addition to the required recitation of the pledge, the bill mandates that schools purchase an American flag for each classroom and ensure that it is on display. The bill passed in the Senate on Nov. 10 with a 31-5 vote. While most members of the Republican-led Senate voted in favor of the bill, some expressed concerns about whether it would foster love for one’s country.

The bill would force students to recite the pledge, potentially against their will, and is a violation of free speech rights in schools. The bill does provide an opt-out policy in which students would not be mandated to recite the pledge if they or their parents object. But while students technically have the option to not participate, the pressure they will likely face from peers and teachers will place a burden on them to make this choice.

Lawmakers are under the impression that forcing students to recite the pledge each school day will teach students American values and their importance. The pledge certainly features buzzwords that represent the country’s value system, but whether or not the words teach students anything is debatable. In reality, forcing students to robotically recite the pledge without teaching them what it means or why they are saying it strips the pledge of all meaning, instead of making it a beacon of patriotism as lawmakers intend.

The appropriate way to encourage students to state the pledge is through education. Michigan schools should teach students what the pledge means and why it is thought to be important. After students have learned about the pledge, they can make their own educated decision about whether or not to recite it. But this should be done with older students — not third-graders who may not understand the impact of their words. Forcing the recitation of the pledge not only voids it of meaning, but it discourages freethinking and personal decision-making among young people.

Every minute that is spent debating and voting on this bill is a slap in the face to the thousands of unemployed people throughout Michigan who are looking for help from their lawmakers. Legislators need to stop wasting time and resources on arbitrary bills and show a commitment to legislation that will increase Michigan’s economic strength.

While ensuring first-graders are patriotic is a noble goal, Michigan lawmakers should consider focusing on rebuilding the economy and creating jobs. Public school administrators should handle the task of overseeing the Pledge of Allegiance, and state lawmakers should begin tackling Michigan’s real problems.

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