State Sen. Ernie Chambers is seeking to end the policy that schools must set aside time each day for students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, just months after education officials required it as a condition for keeping state accreditation and funding.
The State Board of Education unanimously imposed the policy and Gov. Dave Heineman approved it. But Chambers contends that the move "deliberately and brazenly" disregarded the actions of the Legislature, which stopped a similar plan last year in the Education Committee.
On Monday, the same committee will consider Chambers' bill (LB540) that essentially would reverse the board's action.
"It really is an issue of letting the state board of education and every other state entity know that they are not going to treat the Legislature with contempt and get away with it," said Chambers of Omaha.
The requirement the board enacted only designates that time be set aside for a daily pledge. It doesn't force any student or teacher to actually say it, or specify who should lead it.
While some lawmakers are backing Chambers' move as a way of making sure legislative actions carry weight, a former official contends there's nothing wrong with the current policy.
"Chambers' legislation is a solution in search of a problem," said former board member Bob Evnen. "The vast majority of teachers in our state would be more than happy to lead the pledge."
Vietnam veteran Richard Zierke asked former Sen. Tony Fulton of Lincoln to bring the bill last year after he realized Nebraska didn't have any laws on the pledge. He said he worked with the State Board of Education to create its pledge policy after the legislative bill died in committee. If he had it his way, he said he would require all teachers to say the pledge to show respect for America.
"I got more teeth behind the pledge by going through the state school board," he said. "Those senators are a bunch of chickens."
Assistant education commissioner Brian Halstead said the board does not plan on testifying at the hearing and did not take a position on the bill at a recent meeting. Current board members did not return calls from The Associated Press seeking comment on Chambers' bill.
Sen. Jim Sheer of Norfolk said he supports the board's policy because of concern that middle school and high school students weren't getting the same opportunity to say the pledge as most elementary school students. Secondary schools were far less likely to have flags in the classroom, he said.
"It's a reminder of what the United States stands for," Sheer said.
But Chambers said requiring the pledge forces patriotism and bullies some teachers and students into saying it.
"I believe the board had in mind that peer pressure or fear pressure would cause students to go along even if they don't want to," Chambers said.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln Professor David Moshman said he plans to testify in support of Chambers' bill on behalf of the Academic Freedom Coalition of Nebraska and the Nebraska chapter of the ACLU. He said the board's bill forces compulsory patriotism.
"If people want to say it, they should," he said. "The state education board's policy makes it difficult to go against that."
Other states including Maine, Michigan, Ohio and Utah have laws similar to what Fulton introduced last year. Arizona and Mississippi are considering legislation this year that would require schools to offer students the opportunity to say the pledge daily, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.