Declaration of Independence comes under fire in LA House

Published: May. 28, 2016 at 8:47 PM CDT|Updated: May. 28, 2016 at 9:18 PM CDT
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KSLA/AP - The Declaration of Independence came under fire this week from 2 Louisiana Democrats, including a Shreveport lawmaker.

The Associated Press says their comments came in response to a proposal to require Louisiana fourth- through sixth-graders to recite a specific passage from the historic document at the start of each school day.

That passage reads:

"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."

House Bill 1035 was up for final passage May 25. But the Denham Springs lawmaker who authored the proposal pulled it from House debate and placed it back on the calendar before lawmakers could vote on it.

Republican Rep. Valarie Hodges' action came amid pressure from her black colleagues in the state House of Representatives, The Associated Press reports.

State lawmakers who opposed House Bill 1035, which the the House Education Committee had reported favorably on a 6-2 vote, questioned whether its requirement would be fair.

Reps. Barbara Norton, of Shreveport, and Patricia Haynes Smith, of Baton Rouge, told Hodges that children should not have to recite words written at a time when slavery was prevalent and equality wasn't extended to all people. They also noted that the Declaration of Independence was used to bar blacks from voting by requiring them to read it at the polling place before they could cast their ballot.

State law already requires school authorities to allow an opportunity at the start of each class day for students and teachers to recite the pledge of allegiance and observe a brief time in prayer or meditation.

Before Hodges shelved her proposal, Norton suggested that it be amended to also require fourth- through sixth-graders to recite the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution at the start of each school day.

The 14th Amendment addresses many aspects of citizenship and the citizens' rights. Its most commonly used and frequently litigated phrase is "equal protection of the laws," according to Cornell University Law School.

The school says that phrase figures prominently in a wide variety of landmark cases, including Brown v. Board of Education (racial discrimination), Roe v. Wade (reproductive rights),  Bush v. Gore (election recounts), Reed v. Reed (gender discrimination),  and University of California v. Bakke (racial quotas in education).

Baton Rouge's Smith also has something she wants students to say at the start of each school day. She proposed an amendment to Hodges' proposal that, if approved, would have required fourth- through sixth-graders to recite "a passage selected by the teacher from the Declaration of Sentiments from the Women's Rights Conference in Seneca Falls held July 19 through July 20, 1848."

Rep. Edward J. Price, D-Gonzales, proposed an amendment to House Bill 1035 as well. His would have required fourth- through sixth-graders at the start of each class day to recite the following passage from the late Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech:

"When we allow freedom to ring - when we let it ring from every city and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual "Free at last, Free at last, Great God a-mighty, We are free at last."

In response to this week's happenings, Hodges posted video of the proceedings May 25 on her Facebook page along with this quote from King:

"When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

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