Citing a decline in patriotism, the Virginia legislature has voted to legally mandate public school students to daily recite the Pledge of Allegiance (See story on page 3).
This is wrong. Certain practices in American society stem from a love of freedom, a respect for those who fought and died for it. Saying the pledge is a shared ritual, not required rote behavior. Communities as well as lawmakers are carriers of civic traditions.
Forcing a student to say the pledge could actually have the opposite effect of its purpose. Patriotism can no more be mandated than love.
The Constitution requires those who choose not to say the pledge be respected for their dissent. That, however, does not mean doing away with a tradition that reinforces a nation's values. Setting aside time for students to say the pledge voluntarily helps students develop civic awareness.
The larger work of instilling citizenship and other civic virtues belongs to the community. Schools have a part in that work, but it's not exclusively their responsibility.
Perhaps the last few words of that pledge need just a bit more scrutiny: "... with liberty and justice for all."
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor