Iowa bill would require students to sing the national anthem every day


When it came time for her closing comments at Wednesday’s Iowa House subcommittee meeting, Rep. Sue Cahill stood — and began singing the national anthem.

“O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,” she began to sing as her colleagues stood and sang with her.

Cahill and her colleagues were discussing House Study Bill 587, which would require all teachers and students at Iowa schools to sing at least one verse of the national anthem every day. The two Republicans on the subcommittee voted to advance the bill.

Cahill, a Democrat, did not.

When she had finished leading the group in the anthem’s first verse, Cahill, of Marshalltown, took her seat again.

“I appreciate you singing along,” she said, before describing concerns she has with the bill.

“The school classroom is not the place for mandating the singing of the national anthem, thus mandating patriotism for students,” Cahill said. “I think that’s something students choose and it’s something that they learn and they’ll learn it in other ways.”

Rep. Henry Stone, R-Forest City, who chaired the subcommittee, said he is “100%” in support of the bill.

“I believe that our kids should be more exposed to things like our national anthem, those that have supported our country, our servicemen — myself being one of them,” Stone said. “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. So I believe in this bill. I believe that it’s something that we can put back into our schools that has added value.”

Bill would require students to sing the national anthem every day. What else would it do?

The seven-page bill contains requirements for singing the national anthem every day, as well as teaching students about the anthem’s history in social studies classes.

“The board of directors of each public school shall require all teachers providing classroom instruction and all students in attendance to sing at least one verse of the national anthem each school day,” the bill states.

The bill goes on to say that “when the national anthem is being sung pursuant to this subsection, all teachers and students who are physically able shall stand at attention and remove any headdress that is not being worn for religious purposes.”

The bill also says that all students and teachers must sing the entire national anthem on “patriotic occasions.”

School boards can also decide whether to require singing the entire national anthem before all school-sponsored events.

Would Iowa students have to sing the national anthem?

Any student or teacher who chooses not to sing the anthem would be required to stand at attention and maintain a “respectful silence.”

If a teacher chooses not to lead the class in singing the national anthem, the school’s principal would be required to find another teacher to lead the singing.

The bill says school boards shall not consider whether or not a student or teacher participated singing in the national anthem when evaluating that teacher or student.

Would private schools be required to sing the national anthem?

The bill would require schools’ social studies curriculum to include instruction related to “the words and music of the national anthem,” as well as the anthem’s meaning and history and the principles of the U.S. government.

The bill would also require social studies classes to teach “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 and how to love, honor and respect the national anthem.”

The bill would only apply to public schools. Private schools would be exempt from the requirement.

What concerns are there about requiring students sing the national anthem?

Several people at Wednesday’s subcommittee meeting raised concerns that requiring students and staff to stand for the national anthem could violate the First Amendment.

Damian Thompson, a lobbyist for Iowa Safe Schools, told lawmakers “students and teachers alike do not shed their First Amendment rights at the schoolhouse door.”

“While — putting on my personal hat — I’m not crazy when people decide to kneel or sit for the national anthem, I 100% respect their Constitutional right to do so,” Thompson said. “And by mandating that they stand, our students’ First Amendment rights would be violated.”

Dave Daughton, a lobbyist for School Administrators of Iowa and Rural School Advocates of Iowa, said his clients oppose the bill because it mandates certain curriculum to be taught.

“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,” he said. “We are opposed to being mandated to do some of the things that are in the bill.”

Cahill, a retired teacher, said she’s concerned that requiring teachers to take time out of their classes for the national anthem every day will mean less time for their students to learn their required curriculum.

“Elementary classes for their social studies often have 20 to 30 minutes,” she said. “The amount of time it would take to not only sing, teach the singing takes away from some valuable teacher time, student learning time.”

Stone said he’s open to making changes to the bill going forward to incorporate the feedback he got on Wednesday. But he said he supports the bill’s addition to Iowa social studies classes.

“Having teachers have the ability to incorporate this into their social studies program, it’s kind of a no brainer for me,” he said.

Stephen Gruber-Miller covers the Iowa Statehouse and politics for the Register. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at 515-284-8169. Follow him on Twitter at @sgrubermiller.

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