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Iowa lawmakers consider requiring students, teachers to sing national anthem at school each day

by Robin Opsahl 

Iowa Capital Dispatch

Iowa students would be required to sing part of the national anthem at school each day under a bill advanced Wednesday by a House Education subcommittee.

Rep. Sue Cahill, D-Marshalltown, stood and led the room in singing the “The Star-Spangled Banner” during her closing comments.

Today, Iowa lawmakers sang the national anthem in a subcommittee on a bill that would require it to be sung each day in school and require teaching students how to “love, honor and respect” the national anthem. pic.twitter.com/d4ywHFcDZB

— Caleb McCullough (@calebmcculIough) January 24, 2024

Cahill said she sang because “our Capitol is the perfect place to show patriotism,” but requiring the singing of the national anthem in school classrooms each day is not the best path forward as it would be “mandating patriotism for students.”

“I think that’s something students choose and it’s something that they learn and they’ll learn it in other ways,” Cahill said.

House Study Bill 587 would require students and teachers at Iowa public schools to sing at least one verse of the national anthem every day, in addition to singing all four verses of the song on “patriotic occasions” as well as at school functions or school-sponsored activities as determined by the district. Students and teachers would not be required to sing along, but would be required to stand at attention, remain silent and remove non-religious head coverings as the anthem is being sung.

Private schools would be exempt from this requirement.

Several speakers voiced objections to the requirements at the subcommittee meeting, saying that the provision violates students’ First Amendment rights. Damian Thompson, a lobbyist for Iowa Safe Schools, said while he personally is “not crazy (about) when people decide to kneel or sit for the national anthem,” that they have the constitutional right to not participate.

Cahill also voiced concerns that the requirement would take away valuable teaching time in school classrooms.

The legislation also outlines requirements for social studies curriculum in Iowa public schools. It would require that instructors teach the history and meaning, and “how to love, honor and respect” the national anthem, as well as the “the sacrifices made by the founders of the United States, the important contributions made by all who have served in the armed forces of the United States since the founding.”

Dave Daughton, speaking on behalf of the School Administrators of Iowa and Rural School Advocates of Iowa, said the organizations he represents oppose the measure because of the curriculum requirements outlined.

“We’re not opposed to patriotism and all the things that are in this bill, we think a lot of this is being taught in classrooms already,” Daughton said, but added that some school staff are opposed to being “mandated that all districts have to do it, and do it in the same way.”

The bill advanced with the support of Republican Reps. Henry Stone and Phil Thompson. Stone said he believed Iowa students should be “more exposed to things like our national anthem” and patriotism.

“I grew up in a household that valued patriotism, that promoted patriotism. It’s why I joined as a third-generation military man, serving our country for 22 years,” Stone said. “So I believe in this bill. I believe that it’s something that we can put back into our schools that has added value.”

The legislation moves to the full House Education Committee for further consideration.

Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kathie Obradovich for questions: [email protected]. Follow Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.

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January 2024