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Education Reporter

Arizona Students Recite Declaration of Independence
PHOENIX, AZ - Beginning with the fall 2000 semester, Arizona students in the 4th through 6th grades have started each school day by reciting a portion of the Declaration of Independence following the Pledge of Allegiance. The first state in the country to enact such a measure, the Arizona legislature passed SB 1216 last April requiring students to learn and recite the text of this critical founding document. (See An ACT.)

Len Munsil, president of the Center for Arizona Policy, whose organization drafted and lobbied for the legislation, stated in a press release: "This is a huge victory for future generations of children in Arizona. Our children need to understand that this nation was founded on the truths that our rights come from God, and that every human life is of equal value."

The center, which bills itself as "a nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening the family in Arizona" and is affiliated with Focus on the Family, laments that today's students "demonstrate a breathtaking ignorance of our nation's history and purpose." The 1998 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), for example, revealed that only 2% of 4th graders, 2% of 8th graders and 4% of 12th graders scored at the "advanced" level on the civics portion of the test, and that only about 20% in each grade scored at the "proficient" level.

SB 1216 also enforces the Arizona Board of Education's social studies standards, which state that "the study of America's founding principles . . . . as detailed in the United States Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and in The Federalist Papers, is critical to the preservation and improvement of America's republican form of government."

The law's passage prompted a flurry of criticism from the media. One columnist referred to both the Declaration of Independence and the Pledge of Allegiance as "religio-political philosophy." Another accused the bill's supporters (mostly Republicans) of "doggedly pursuing symbolism over substance." Not everyone agrees, however. Arizona Republic columnist Ben Boychuck wrote (4-10-00): "Our schools should teach freedom, and the Declaration's words are a good place to start."

Amending Section 15-203, Arizona Revised Statutes; Relating to the State Board of Education  
Be it enacted by the Legislature of the State of Arizona: Section 1. Section 15-203, Arizona Revised Statutes, is amended to read: 15-203. Powers and duties 
A. The state board of education shall . . . 
26. Require pupils to recite the following passage from the Declaration of Independence for pupils in grades four through six at the commencement of the first class of the day in the schools, except that a pupil shall not be required to participate if the pupil or the pupil's parent or guardian objects: 
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed . . . .

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