The feud between Rep. John Fillmore and House Speaker Rusty Bowers took an odd turn last week, when the two battled over the appropriateness of requiring school children to say the Pledge Of Allegiance. The feud began when Fillmore ran an omnibus-type election integrity bill that Bowers killed in a very public temper tantrum earlier this month.
On Thursday, Bowers was joined by Reps. Michelle Udall, Gale Griffin, and Tim Dunn in killing an amendment proposed by Fillmore to a bill, HB 2707, sponsored by Rep. Alma Hernandez, which requires publicly funded schools to set aside a time each school day for students to engage in a moment of silence. In legislative terms, the amendment was considered a “hostile amendment” because it was offered to amend a bill, against the wishes of the bill’s sponsor.
Fillmore’s amendment merely would have required students to say the Pledge of Allegiance.
Specifically, Fillmore’s amendment would have required the schools to set aside a specific time each day for students in kindergarten programs and the 1st-4th grades to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. The Pledge would be mandatory for 1st-4th grades unless a parent opted their child out of the exercise.
Bowers argued that is was essentially un-American to compel a child in the 1st – 4th grades to recite the Pledge. Udall, Griffin, and Dunn claimed that they agreed with the Pledge amendment on principle, but that they were unwilling to stand by those principles because of the process employed. Fillmore’s decision to offer the hostile amendment was frowned on by Bowers and his team as part of an effort to create a bipartisan appearance in this election year.
In an unexpected move, one member of Bower’s leadership team, House Majority Leader Rep. Ben Toma, stood up to acknowledge that while he found the process Fillmore chose to be objectionable, the principle was too important to let a process dispute get in the way.
“I am conflicted on this bill. I’m American by choice. As most of you know I wasn’t born here and the reason I’m conflicted is that the comments made about being forced to do certain things definitely resonated with me. On the other hand, America and the American flag, it’s such a symbol of everything that this country stands for – and the rest of the world; so many would give us so much to be able to be here. To have that opportunity to say the pledge. Not to say the least, or minimize in any way those who have given everything to protect what this country is including those in wars and all around the world. I’m conflicted because there are two different values here at stake when it comes to this particular bill. On the one hand you have that, and on the other hand is that personal choice and freedom that each student has to make on their own. Having said that there are times when – especially as minor as a child developing, you have to trust that your parents, your family, those you care about, know better. And you have to do certain things that you don’t want to do until you get to a certain age at which point you can choose to do something different. And that’s fair and that’s valid. Although I really don’t like the way this has happened – I don’t like the process and I would prefer to vote on this separately. I think in the end I have no choice but to support it. I vote aye.”
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Thanks to the nay votes of Bowers, Udall, and the others, Fillmore’s amendment failed, and Arizona schoolkids do not have to recite the pledge of allegiance. Hernandez’s bill now heads to the Senate.