CONCORD, N.H. — The issue of reverence for the nation’s flag has returned to the State House.
A bill proposed by Rep. Harry Accornero, R-Laconia, would require grade school students to stand during the Pledge of Allegiance.
Members of the House Constitutional Review and Statutory Recodification Committee, however, were wary of the proposal at a hearing on Tuesday.
“Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s going to go anywhere,” Accornero said. “I grew up in an era when it wasn’t even considered that you didn’t stand and respect the flag. Our Constitution is being thrown down the toilet. I thought this would encourage young people to appreciate what the flag means and the people who fought and died for it.”
Accornero said he was impelled to file the bill after hearing that some students not only would not stand for the pledge, but would be disruptive and disrespectful while it was recited.
“I thought this would put some teeth in the law. Teachers could say, ‘It’s a law,’” he said.
This is not the first time Accornero has taken a stand inspired by patriotism. He was among a group of lawmakers last year who challenged the citizenship of President Obama and sought to get the secretary of state to remove Obama from the New Hampshire ballot.
The pledge bill would make a small change to the School Patriot Act, the law passed in 2002 in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks that requires districts to incorporate the pledge into the school day.
The law states that “pupils not participating in the recitation of the pledge of allegiance may silently stand or remain seated but shall be required to respect the rights of those pupils electing to participate.”
Accornero’s bill would change “may stand” to “shall stand” and replace “or remain seated” with “unless they are physically unable to do so.”
Committee members, including several veterans, said compelling students to stand during the pledge would put the state on shaky legal ground, and some argued that it would contradict what the flag stands for.
“While the sponsor’s intention may have been a good one, to have students show respect, it’s a bad idea,” Seth Cohn, R-Canterbury, said. “We can’t require people to stand up. Compelling someone to stand is clearly unconstitutional, especially for the pledge, because it says ‘one nation under God.”
Cohn added that one of Accornero’s main goals with the bill, to get students to show respect during the pledge, is already covered by the law, since students who opt to stay silent or sit are “required to respect the rights of those pupils electing to participate.”
The School Patriot Act itself has faced legal challenges, although it was affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals in 2010, following a lawsuit by Freedom From Religion Foundation.
Echoing the sentiments of some of the veterans on the panel, Cohn said, “We can’t in the name of freedom throw away the freedom that our flag stands for.”
Accornero conceded that he did not expect the bill to make it out of committee. He said he would focus his efforts on education, “to encourage schools in the state to teach students about what the flag means.”