Bill to mandate that students recite part of Declaration of Independence clears House panel _lowres

This undated image released by Britain's National Archives on July 2, 2009, shows a copy of the United States Declaration of Independence, which was discovered at the National Archives in Kew, England. (AP Photo/National Archives)

Should Louisiana public school students be required to recite a passage from the Declaration of Independence daily?

The state House Education Committee said yes Wednesday.

The panel voted 6-2 for legislation that would require students in grades four, five and six to recite a portion of the historic document in the first class of the day.

“I think it is important that children memorize it and understand it.” said Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs and sponsor of the proposal.

The legislation, House Bill 1035, next faces action in the full House, and an uncertain future.

Hodges said the new requirement is needed in part because of polls showing lots of people have little knowledge about government, including the fact there are three branches.

“My bill is 55 words,” she said.

“It takes 20 seconds to say it,” Hodges told the committee. “It would be just like we say the Pledge of Allegiance every morning in the Legislature.”

The passage that students would have to memorize says: “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.”

Rep. Walt Leger III, D-New Orleans, a member of the committee, said context is needed along with the proposed requirement.

Leger noted that, when the document was written, men and women were not considered equal, nor were black Americans considered equal to whites.

“We don’t study all of our history,” Leger said. “We study some of our history.”

Leger later voted “yes” on the bill.

Leger said he may offer an amendment on the House floor to require that state lawmakers take a standardized tests known as the nation’s report card and make the results public.

“That would be awesome,” Hodges replied.

State Rep. Ed Price, D-Gonzales, tried to amend the legislation to make it permissive rather than mandatory.

“I am no lawyer but I know that this can lead to lawsuits when we say we will require,” Price said.

Hodges said the change would render her bill meaningless.

However, she said she would craft an opt out clause — students could bow out of the requirement — to be added to the bill when it is debated in the full House.

Price’s amendment failed 3-5.

Asked how she picked the passage that students would have to learn Hodges said, “It has the most meat in it.

“The rest are grievances against the king. I don’t think they need to memorize it.”

She added, “I didn’t want to make it too long. It is so rich, with so many different elements. I thought it was the most important part, not just to recite it but to study it and understand it.”

Voting “yes” on the bills (6): Reps. Beryl Amedee, R-Houma; Chris Broadwater, R-Hammond; Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge; Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge; Walt Leger III, D-New Orleans; and Julie Emerson, R-Carencro.

Voting “no” HB1035 (2): Reps. Ed Price, D-Gonzales, and Joseph Bouie, D-New Orleans.

Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell.

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