Opinion | Iowa Republicans need to focus on real issues rather than patriotism

Politicians need to focus on issues that have an impact on Iowan’s lives, not enforcing the pledge of allegiance.


Yassie Buchanan, Opinions Columnist

Yet again, Iowa Republicans are introducing harmful and unnecessary bills in the Legislature.

In an effort to uphold blind patriotism, Sen. Adrian Dickey, R-Packwood, introduced a bill that would require teachers to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Teachers would also be barred from talking about the pledge in an “unpatriotic” manner. The only exception is if the teacher has a disability that prevents them from standing and reciting the pledge.

This bill infringes on the freedom of speech of teachers further enforces harmful censorship that has been used to erase marginalized identities.

Besides the freedom of speech and censorship concerns, teachers respecting the pledge doesn’t even seem to be a problem in Iowa’s public schools.

Without any legislation in place, we started every morning with the Pledge of Allegiance when I was in elementary school. Most students stood and mindlessly recited the words, with the exception of some students who did not participate because of religious beliefs. Nevertheless, it was a daily practice that my teachers never commented on, and students paid very little attention to.

This is not the first time in recent history that Iowa Republicans introduced a bill about the Pledge of Allegiance. At the end of last year’s legislative session, a bill was passed that required schools to present the flag and require the school to recite the Pledge of Allegiance every day.

Ultimately, students cannot be forced to recite the pledge because of their right to free expression. This was established in 1943 with the Supreme Court case, West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette.

If it’s been established that students cannot be forced to say the Pledge of Allegiance, why should it be any different for teachers? In fact, this bill takes these free-speech infringements a step further by censoring the language used surrounding the pledge.

Instead of improving the public school system in Iowa, this seems to be another attempt to uphold conservative ideas of patriotism, which often means erasing minority voices.

Through this proposal, teachers would not be allowed to say any “unpatriotic commentary on the United States,” or language that has any political influence on students. Along with possible infringement on free speech, this bill is further complicated by how we view patriotism.

Republicans have made attempts left and right to censor teachers. However, it all seems rooted in silencing minorities. Bills were put into place last year to bar teachers from teaching the 1619 Project in schools because of concerns it is not historically accurate and misrepresents the values of America. Iowa schools are also facing increasing attention and possible bans of several books being taught, mostly ones that highlighting minority experiences, such as The Hate u Give, and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian.

The abundance of censorship and backlash when it comes to language or teaching that involves minority experiences suggests this Legislature is not about protecting students — it’s about continuing to erase and censor certain identities.

Censoring the language that teachers use in regard to the Pledge of Allegiance is a step in the same direction, attempting to control unpatriotic language in the classroom. But what do we define as unpatriotic, and who curates those definitions?

It seems Republicans’ focus is less about unifying the country and more about making sure certain ways of  thinking about America are controlled — whether through book bans, attempts to erase the 1619 Project, or censoring speech around the Pledge of Allegiance. Conservative powers are infringing on what information can be shared or spoken.

Classrooms can be powerful places to grow through education. Instead of investing in bettering the education system, Republican senators are focused on censoring language and upholding their definition of patriotism.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.