SALT LAKE CITY — Every morning in every Utah public school class, students may be required by law to stand, put their hands over their hearts and recite the Pledge of Allegiance, under legislation that advanced Wednesday.
"I believe we need to make the Pledge of Allegiance more meaningful for our students," the sponsor of SB223, Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-West Jordan, told the Senate Education Committee, which unanimously recommended the bill to the full Senate.
Currently, state law only requires elementary school students to recite the pledge daily. The bill would apply the law to all public and charter schools, grades K-12.
In the Granite School District, the pledge is usually led over the loudspeaker, said district spokesman Ben Horsley.
Students in higher grades are led in the pledge at least once a week.
"It's something we do on a regular basis already," he said. Schools would certainly do whatever the Legislature requires, he added.
Osmond said he visited schools within his district for numerous hours and noticed that students — especially those from immigrant families — were not really involved in reciting the pledge.
Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, said he was concerned about children whose religion prohibits saluting a flag, because of the peer group pressure they would feel.
"I wonder if there's a way for teachers to teach respect for those who choose not to recite the pledge," he said. "If this nation means anything, we have to teach respect for that."
Current law says a student may be excused from reciting the pledge with a written note from the parent or legal guardian.
Stephenson added that he recently attended a Veterans Day program at the School for New Americans in West Valley City, which has many students of immigrant families.
"I've never heard any group of school children say the Pledge of Allegiance with more passion," he said. "It echoed through the room."