Arizona Bill Would Require Public High School Students to Swear Constitutional Oath Under God to Get Their Diplomas

Students recite the pledge of allegiance during a 9/11 remembrance ceremony on Sept. 11, 2012. A proposed bill in Arizona would require high school students to swear a constitutional oath under God to receive their diplomas. (AP)

A bill making its way through the Arizona state legislature would require public high school students to swear an oath to defend the Constitution before they receive their diplomas.

The legislation was introduced Tuesday by a group of Republican lawmakers and referred to several state House committees. If passed, it would require principals to verify in writing that a student had recited the following oath before they were allowed to graduate, beginning in the 2013-2014 school year:

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.

The oath — similar to the one taken by government leaders, military members and new U.S. citizens — ends with the words “so help me God,” which could run afoul of the First Amendment, the Phoenix Business Journal noted:

Jehovah’s witnesses, some Muslims and pacifist Quakers have in the past challenged loyalty oaths imposed by the federal government and other agencies, saying they conflict with their beliefs and religious professions. Similarly, some Arizona students could challenge the proposed high school oath as a violation of their religious liberties and freedom of expression.

The legislation’s sponsor, first-time lawmaker Rep. Bob Thorpe, told Current the idea for it came from a campaign event and from constituents who said they were concerned about patriotism and the Constitution.

“The reason behind this is meant to be a positive experience, not a negative experience,” Thorpe said.

He disputed the notion that the bill is unconstitutional, saying the First Amendment prohibits Congress, not state legislatures, from making any law “respecting an establishment of religion” or “abridging the freedom of speech.” The bill doesn’t stop students from speaking out, he said.

“The idea that there’s something evil about taking this oath seems to be a pretty ineffective argument,” Thorpe said. “When you think about all the areas where people take this oath voluntarily.”

Thorpe said he was planning to offer an amendment to the bill making the oath optional instead of mandatory.