BISMARCK – Two bills on the Pledge of Allegiance were heard before a North Dakota State House committee Thursday.
The House Government and Veterans Affairs committee heard House Bill 1172, which would prohibit any executive officer or employee from altering the language of the current Pledge of Allegiance. The bill’s sponsor, Representative Vicky Steiner, R-Dis. 37, Dickinson, suggested amendments to remove the comma after the word “nation,” and to add “the governor” to the list of officers who cannot change the language.
“Last August the governor had a press release,” said Steiner. “I just found it curious because the language was not the exact language of the pledge. It’s not a typo. I’ve not visited with the governor on his choice of words, it just left me curious.”
Steiner explained that Governor Doug Burgum called the pledge an affirmation in his press release, saying “we are one nation united under one flag, with liberty and justice for all,” which has closer language to the 1892 pledge than the current pledge created in 1954, Steiner said.
“I’d like to keep our current language from 1954,” said Steiner. “I think it’s a good reminder of our Christian roots as a country. In my research, I found that under God in the 1950s likely meant by the grace of God. It didn’t mean you had to be under God, it just recognized that God is there.”
In response to the Chairman’s question on whether the governor’s staff may have simply been inaccurate in their choice or words, Steiner said she would ask them. She added that she thinks sometimes words are proposed to be less controversial.
Jim Nelson, director of the North Dakota Veterans Legislative Council, testified in favor of the bill.
“Never in a million years did I ever think I’d be standing in front of a legislative committee defending the Pledge of Allegiance,” said Nelson. “The Pledge of Allegiance is a patriotic verse that promises allegiance or loyalty to the flag of the United States of America.”
Nelson said he has ancestors who served in the Revolutionary, Civil, and both World Wars. He and his cousin served during the Vietnam War, and his cousin didn’t come home. His grandson is currently serving in the United States Marine Corps.
“Besides myself and my grandson, if they were looking, I believe they’re rolling over in their graves,” said Nelson. “They fought for this country. We’re the greatest country in the world but we’re not the most perfect country in the world. There’s no perfect country in the world.”
The committee also heard House Bill 1120, which would require government board meetings to provide an opportunity for the voluntary recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.
The bill’s sponsor, Representative Pat Heinert, R-Dis. 32, Bismarck, recommended amending page 2, line 21 of the bill from “a school board shall authorize the voluntary recitation,” to “may authorize”, back to what the North Dakota Century Code currently states. Part of the reason for the change would be to avoid legal ramifications due to a Supreme Court decision which Heinert said barred mandating the recitation of the pledge. However, some legislators thought keeping the word “shall” would not be mandating recitation as the word “voluntary” would still remain.
Both bills are scheduled to be voted on by committee for a recommendation. If the bills pass both the House and Senate chambers and are signed by the governor, they will become law.