Target: Representative Bob Thorpe of Arizona
Goal: Don’t require high school seniors to take an oath pledging their loyalty to the Constitution.
In Arizona, a new bill has been introduced that would force public high school seniors to recite an oath of loyalty to the United States Constitution in order to graduate. Representative Bob Thorpe, a self-proclaimed Tea Party member, claims he introduced to bill because he hopes the oath “will inspire them to learn more about our Constitutional form of government and the rich history of our nation and founding.” Thorpe also cited the fact that similar oaths are taken by government officials and members of the military as reason to implement the requirement. Not only is his logic behind the bill flawed, but making a loyalty oath a requirement to graduate is inherently unconstitutional.
The oath (which can be read in full here) would force students to swear to “support and defend the Constitution” and finishes with the phrase “so help me God.” Both of these elements of the oath are clear violations of the First Amendment, which protects the right to freedom of expression from government interference and freedom of religion. Making the oath a requirement to graduate essentially challenges the validity of the oath as it could very well be taken under duress if a student feels threatened to choose between swearing his or her support or not being able to graduate. In addition to disregarding students’ freedom of expression, the bill ignores students who are not citizens of the U.S. and whose parents may be in the country on work visas or in similar situations. It also ignores students who are atheists or hold other religious beliefs through the inclusion of the word “God.”
Thorpe’s goal to inspire students to learn about the Constitution may be well intentioned, but his means of doing so are misguided and—ironically—unconstitutional. Tell Arizona Representative Bob Thorpe to stop this bill from becoming state law and to inspire students in a more constructive, constitutional way.
Dear Representative Bob Thorpe,
Your recent bill to require high school seniors to take an oath of loyalty to the U.S. Constitution is inherently unconstitutional. It clearly violates the First Amendment, which protects our right to freedom of expression from government interference and freedom of religion. Making the oath a graduation requirement is a form of government interference, and the inclusion of the word “God” violates the separation of church and state. If a student feels forced to choose between taking the oath or not being able to graduate, then the oath itself is essentially invalid as it would be taken under duress.
Your intention to inspire students to learn about a core piece of our country’s history and foundational element of our government should be respected. But as a father of two, you should understand that forcing young people to say or do something certainly does not mean they accept or believe in it. It would be much more constructive and constitutionally sound to institute a civics program as part of the curriculum that would educate students about the Constitution and what it means to be a citizen.
Students should not be forced to take a Constitutional oath. As a representative, however, you voluntarily took an oath to uphold the rights protected under the Constitution. As such, we demand that you stop this bill from becoming a law in order to protect the First Amendment rights of students.
[Your Name Here]
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