Arizona legislators propose constitutional “loyalty oath” to graduate high school

“I, ______, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge these duties; so help me God.”

High school students in the state of Arizona would be required to recite the above oath before graduating if a proposed bill is passed. The bill is an effort to “encourage our high school students to take an active interest in what our Constitution is,” bill co-sponsor Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff, told The Huffington Post.

The bill has faced criticism from the press and from legal groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona. Thorpe declined to comment, but he told The Arizona Republic that since filling the bill, he’s been considering introducing an amendment to make the oath optional and not a requirement. A spokesperson for Thorpe’s office said the bill is still in committee and probably won’t come up for a vote this session.

ACLU Public Policy Director Anjali Abraham said in an email that, though she understands the idea behind the bill, she sees problems that may stop the bill from passing — namely, that it is unconstitutional.

“The government cannot mandate that children attend school and then require them to swear a loyalty oath in order to graduate,” she said. “The courts have repeatedly rejected this kind of effort at compelled speech.”

Adam Goldstein, an attorney with the Student Press Law Center, said that this sort of “disregard” for constitutional values could, in fact, hurt students’ understanding of the Constitution.

“It’s a loyalty oath,” Goldstein said. “It’s a bill proposing what lawyers use as an example of unconstitutional laws.”

Goldstein said that Arizona would better serve its students by allowing them to enjoy the rights given to them in the Constitution. He cited the “free marketplace of ideas” and said that if loyalty is what Congress wants, then it should allow students to choose for themselves.

“The concept of the Constitution is that people should have the freedom to determine their own destiny,” he said. “Mandating that they love the Constitution guts the Constitution.”