- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 22, 2001

RICHMOND The Virginia House of Delegates sliced apart the Pledge of Allegiance bill yesterday so that if it became law it would, in effect, just encourage students to say the pledge.

The bill still requires students to say the pledge, but now allows a student to refuse without having to give any reason something that guts the bill, backers said. It also now leaves up to the local school districts whether or how to punish students who are disruptive.

The bill passed overwhelmingly after the changes were made.

But the issue is not finished because the House version now conflicts with the Senate version, which exempted only students with acceptable religious or philosophic objections and would have suspended students who refused to say the pledge without reason.

The Senate will have to accept or reject the House changes, and the bill's sponsor, Sen. Warren E. Barry, said he thinks he has the votes in the Senate to reject the amendments and create a conference between the House and Senate.

"It appears that the House totally emasculated the bill," Mr. Barry, Fairfax Republican, said after the floor action yesterday. "They made it unconstitutional since they struck all language relative to religious and philosophical objection. Then they took all the penalties out so all a kid has to do is stand up and say 'I object' no penalty. Those are the kids I wanted to teach some respect for the American flag."

The majority of delegates, though, said Mr. Barry's bill reached too far.

"The last thing we need to do is teach kids the lesson that you can be suspended, you can be out on the street for this," said Delegate L. Karen Darner, Arlington Democrat and a schoolteacher.

"Those words mean to me that you don't just recite 'In God we trust,' you live it," she said. "You don't just recite the Lord's Prayer, you live it. And you don't just recite the Pledge of Allegiance, you live it. And it would behoove us to do the same."

Delegates also pleaded that the House not cave in to political pressure.

"Don't do it just to get re-elected. You've got to do more than this to get re-elected," said Delegate Lionell Spruill Sr., Chesapeake Democrat.

Speaking for keeping the original bill intact were many delegates who had served in the military.

"There are a lot of folks I have served with who are no longer here, and cannot hear this funny banter about the flag under which they died, and the flag under which they shed their blood," said Delegate Richard H. Black, Loudoun Republican.

For Robert G. Marshall, Prince William Republican, the matter seemed personal. Mr. Marshall's bill to post the U.S. motto "In God we trust" in every school died Monday in the Senate committee of which Mr. Barry is chairman.

"When I had the experience of being in front of that committee, what I really did not like was the chairman asking me and his assistant, 'What are your motives?' You know what? It's none of their business what my motives were," Mr. Marshall said.

"He said in the paper, 'My motives,' meaning his, the chairman from Fairfax, 'are patriotic. His Marshall's are religious. They're not allowed here.' Well, you know, I don't like that in Virginia. I don't think anyone should have to testify what their reasons are. If you don't want to take this oath, this pledge, don't take it. And don't pry into someone's conscience, like they did to me on the other side of this body."

With that speech, the chamber voted 72-27 in favor of his amendment to allow a student simply to object without giving a reason.

Several other amendments were rejected, and one that would have required the House to recite the pledge was ruled out of order on procedure.

• • •

The Senate yesterday stuck to its position on the Standards of Learning, rejecting riders to a bill that would allow students who do well in a course and come close but fail to pass an SOL test to receive credit based on how well they did in the class.

The House added the amendments to the bill on Monday, after a Senate committee earlier bottled up several bills that would have done the same thing.

With two conflicting versions, the matter will probably go to a conference committee, but it's unlikely the new language will survive the conference or review by the governor.

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