LINCOLN — “One nation ... indivisible” divided three military veterans testifying before the Legislature's Education Committee on Monday.
One, a state senator, urged the committee to support his bill overturning a rule requiring the Pledge of Allegiance in Nebraska schools.
Another veteran opposed the bill, saying children should learn about the meaning of the U.S. flag.
The third veteran, displaying a photo of bodies piled outside a German concentration camp, warned about the consequences of unquestioned oaths to the government.
State Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, who volunteered for the Army in 1959, said he introduced Legislative Bill 540 to uphold the policy-making authority of the Legislature. The bill would repeal a rule adopted by the State Board of Education in August that is supposed to take effect in the 2013-14 school year.
Under the rule, public schools must make time daily for reciting the pledge or risk losing their accreditation. Reciting the pledge would be voluntary for students and teachers.
The state education board approved the rule after a bill calling for the same result died in the Legislature.
Chambers said the board acted “in brazen disregard” for the Legislature — and without legal authority — when it adopted the rule.
“This bill is designed to nullify an end-run around the Legislature by the State Board of Education,” he said. “The policy of the state is established by the Legislature.”
Greg Holloway, a veteran of the Vietnam War who spoke for the Disabled American Veterans, argued to keep the rule.
He said the State Board of Education should be able to decide this matter, just as it decides on academic matters for schools.
“We elect the State Board of Education. Let them do their job,” he said. “If they can't do their job on this matter, what's next?”
Another Vietnam veteran, Marvin Havlat, took a neutral position on the bill. But he said people need to be wary of taking oaths to the government without thinking.
The Education Committee took no immediate action on Chambers' bill, but Sen. Kate Sullivan of Cedar Rapids, the committee chairwoman, said she doesn't expect it to advance.
The pledge rule, however, faces another challenge from an Omaha lawyer, Kevin Stanosheck. He petitioned a judge last month to strike down the rule on the grounds that the board lacked the authority to impose the requirement on schools.
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