(In my opinion, nothing.)
A professor of mine recently posted this
article blog post on Facebook without comment: “Arizona Republicans Propose Bill That Would Not Allow Atheists To Graduate High School”. (I will say ahead of time that this is, as the url indicates, from the “Friendly Atheist”, and is an op-ed piece, so it does indeed have a slant. I will tell you right now that, had I seen this bill out of this context, I’d still be writing this.)
Firstly, I will say that the title is a little misleading. It’s not just atheists; it’s anyone who does not believe/is unsure of their belief in a Christian God. Secondly, I will say that the authors of the bill have sent out an email clarifying that they were under a time crunch and thus unable to include more “adaptable” language for those of other beliefs. I’ll comment on that in a bit. Third, the title also does demonize Republicans a bit. I refuse to believe this mentality that every one of “the other guy” is all the same, and I’m sure that there are Republicans out there who would not stand for this bill, Democrats who would, etc. To me, the party doesn’t matter in this case. That political offcials are pushing for this is merely a formality.
The oath, in its entirety (at least, as it currently is written), reads as follows:
“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 of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge these duties; So help me God.” (Emphasis not mine.)
As someone pointed out in a comment on the link my professor provided, it’s a lot like the citizenship oath of the United States. Now, I don’t think that requiring non-citizens to swear this oath or a similar one as part of the naturalization process is a bad thing. I also think that saying the pledge every morning is fine, provided you allow kids who are uncomfortable with it to skip out on the “under God” part if nothing else. I do believe, however, that requiring citizens to swear such an oath is absolutely pointless. (You don’t suddenly become a citizen at 18, remember—if you were born in the U.S., you’re a citizen, plain as day.) As for the kids who might not be there legally, if the oath isn’t making them naturalized citizens, again, there’s no real point. Why? Well, why should they swear such an oath to a country that isn’t “theirs”? (And what about the kids who are there on exchange, or student visas, but have no plans to become permanent residents/citizens?)
Furthermore, hopefully we’re not forcibly drafting these kids into the military or into public office fresh out of high school. If they’d like to involve themselves in those paths, that’s their choice, and they’re free to make it, but this oath is also of the sort that those in public office might take. (Admittedly, I don’t know about the military, but I’ve heard there’s some sort of oath or something that you have to swear before serving. If I have this incorrect, please inform me and I will edit accordingly!) Again, I ask you: why, then, should they recite this oath?
Another bone to pick: anyone can recite an oath and not believe or mean any or all of it, making said oath effectively (you guessed it!) pointless. It seems to me that enough lawmakers do this all the time, and on both sides of the party line. (I run pretty close to moderate politically—I don’t have problems calling out what I see wrong with anywhere on the spectrum.)
Now, to address the clarifying remarks that were sent out regarding this “loyalty oath”.
This is part of that email: “Even though I want to encourage all of our students to understand and respect our Constitution and constitutional form of government, I do not want to create a requirement that students or parents may feel uncomfortable with.”
My response to the first part of that sentence: Okay, so, have them take an in-depth civics class, especially one that encourages discussion about these things. That was a high school graduation requirement for me. I also had to learn about the Constitution pretty thoroughly in the eighth grade. Still haven’t forgotten much of it, especially the part about how everyone interprets it to further their own agenda. Everyone.
And now, the second part: I really don’t see any way that you can keep an oath like that that doesn’t make someone uncomfortable. Not in its current form. You’re either going to have to make someone uncomfortable, or you’re going to have to forgo this oath. A little bit of discomfort is, in my opinion, a fine thing. Makes us evaluate where we are and what we want. However, there is something to be said for not including in school this oath which has no educational value at best, and, at worst, sounds like the work of people convinced that everyone who isn’t them (or doesn’t agree with them) is out to undermine the fabric of society as we know it, unless we use this magical spell to keep them in their place.
Yeah, let me know how that works for you.