Oath of public service should not have to be taken to receive diploma

Caleb HendrichYou would think that the one basic requirement for graduating high school would be meeting the minimum grade requirements for graduation. That seems to be a no-brainer; make the grades, received the diploma. Nothing hard about that.

Arizona, however, is in the process of drafting a bill that would require high school students to recite an oath of loyalty to the United States of America in order to receive their diploma.

Students would, if the bill is passed, have to make the following statement if they wanted to graduate:

“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 or evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge these duties; so help me God.”

There are a number of issues with forcing students to make this sort of oath.

First, it is a pretty blatant violation of the Establishment Clause. Students who are ostensibly not Christian (Muslims, atheists, Hindus, etc.) would have to lie about their faith or lack thereof in order to graduate. The state of Arizona could also face legal trouble from other faiths (specifically Jehovah’s Witnesses and pacifist Quakers) whose faith discourages them from engaging in such practices.

This is different than the Establishment Clause objections to the Pledge of Allegiance. Those of us who do not believe in the Christian God can choose to opt out of saying the phrase “under God”. Hell, we also occasionally substitute our own satirical deities into the pledge. The Pledge is — more or less — optional. You can say it, or not, without much consequence.

That changes instantly when saying the Pledge every day became a requirement for graduation in Arizona. It is a ridiculous requirement that serves next to no purpose with regards to education.

Second, the oath, in and of itself, is disingenuous. You cannot, repeat cannot, take an obligation of loyalty to the United States freely if your diploma is being withheld from you. It sort of ruins the point of “doing something freely” if you are being coerced into doing something. It also cheapens the oath a bit and ruins any credibility (if any) that is given by the oath.

And third, forcing high school students to take an oath of loyalty to the United States has no point whatsoever, at least in regards to public service. High school students are not public officials. They are not police officers, lawyers, state representatives or someone who would need to be taking such an oath.

High school students are not involved with intimate issues of the state, nor do they have any influence with the law (at least, not that I know of). Most high school seniors are (probably) worried about two things: getting out of high school and getting into college. What, then, is the point of requiring them swear allegiance to the country?

It certainly has nothing to do with academic requirements. Making a student swear an oath does not help them improve their grades. It does not even help you learn anything substantive about civics or the political process. If anything, taking the oath is not even going to be seen with the gravity that the Arizona legislature would want it to be seen in. It is just one more thing to be checked off on the graduation requirement list.

I suspect that has much more to do with instilling a sense of national pride, or at the very least enforcing a certain belief about the United States in the minds of students in Arizona. That could go both ways, either as a well-meaning attempt to remind the students of their potential responsibility to the nation or as a paranoid attempt to stave of perceived anti-American thoughts that the students might have picked up.

Even here, an oath is pointless. Even if one of those students graduates and goes into public service, the oath of loyalty would be given at the appropriate time: when they are about to be given the position. And if they do not go into public service, then the oath was just a meaningless phrase of words they had to say back in the day to graduate high school.

Bottom line, this requirement is absolutely unnecessary. There are more pressing education-related issues to pursue, and wasting time with the abstract notion of loyalty is not one of them.