Some Florida lawmakers are looking to fix what they call an outdated law related to saying the “Pledge of Allegiance” in schools.
At every meeting, Governor Rick Scott, the rest of the Cabinet, and audience members are led in the Pledge of Allegiance by various people.
At their latest Cabinet meeting, it was students from Cornerstone Christian Academy in Avon Park who led them in the Pledge. That’s a private school and in many public schools across the state, the Pledge of Allegiance is also recited to start the day.
But, that very issue is causing quite a stir in several Florida Panhandle districts—areas where there’s a heavy military presence.
Santa Rosa School Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick says it all started when one student came a little bit late to school, while the Pledge of Allegiance was taking place.
“The teacher then corrected that student, said the student took that correction, and began to say the Pledge of Allegiance,” he recounted. “A few days later, one of those students’ parents asked that the student not say the Pledge, and from that, began a discussion about when and how notice of not saying the Pledge to each student and the opportunity that they do not have to say the Pledge should be issued.”
The Muslim parent of the student brought it to the attention of the school that Florida law states signs must be posted around the school, informing students of their right not to say the Pledge of Allegiance.
While Wyrosdick says he knows students have that right, he believes he shouldn’t have to post the signs, and should just have it stated in a handbook.
Still, he posted signs in all the classrooms. They read, “Students are invited to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag of our country, but they are not required to do so.”
“My heart sank for those who lost their family, husbands, wives, children and parents while they were fighting for this country,” said Haley Odom.
Odom, a Gulf Breeze High School student, tearfully described how she felt when she saw the posted signs.
She’d just come back to school, after not going for awhile as she recovered from an injury. But, she says she was surprised to see the displayed signs, when she went from classroom to classroom.
“My heart sank for the people who have so little respect and so little appreciation for these men and women and take our freedom for granted,” Odom added.
And, she wasn’t the only one who felt so strongly about the issue. Ray Goodwin, a military veteran, says he too is against the Superintendent having to post signs in the classroom.
“People talk about First Amendment rights. It’s always…the ones that are forgotten seem to be the people who fought for those rights. The Superintendent shouldn’t have to post this in every classroom all over the school board,” he stated. “If a kid doesn’t follow the instructions that are written in the handbook, then that’s their problem.”
Both Odom and Goodwin spoke during a recent meeting of the Santa Rosa Delegation, led by Rep. Doug Broxson (R-Gulf Breeze).
He says the debate about giving people the option of saying the Pledge is an old one and has gone to court.
“Right before World War II, there evidently was a protest that someone did not want to say the Pledge, and it became, I’m sure, controversial. It ended up 1941 in the Supreme Court and they ruled the First Amendment right, or person of free speech would allow them, if they chose not to, to say the Pledge,” said Broxson.
At the request of Wyrosdick and other superintendents, Broxson is now spearheading an effort to change the law. His proposed measure would still allow a parent to submit a written request excusing the student from reciting the pledge. But, it would also allow the schools simply include the Pledge-avoidance option in the student handbook, rather than a classroom posting.
“So, now some 70 years later, and really some 60 years later after ‘under God’ was added to the Pledge, we’re trying to refine a law that’s over 70 years old, bring it up to date, so it’s more applicable to what students would expect today,” Broxson added.
As part of the Santa Rosa County delegation, Rep. Mike Hill (R-Pensacola Beach) is slated to sign on as a co-sponsor in the House, while Sen. Greg Evers (R-Baker) is expected to carry the Senate bill.
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