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Interview With Jim Rietmulder, C. Allan Egolf

Aired July 16, 2003 - 19:40   ET


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, they've been doing it for generations, but students in Pennsylvania will no longer have to say the Pledge of Allegiance or sing the National Anthem if they don't want to. A federal judge has overruled the state law that would have required students to start the day hand over heart.

CNN's Deborah Feyerick reports.


DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It seems like such a simple pledge, an oath of allegiance to flag and country. Simple certainly after 9/11, and now when U.S. men and women are fighting and dying in Iraq.

At least that's what war veterans in Pennsylvania believe. They helped convince state politicians to pass a law. Schools would start the day with the Pledge of Allegiance or the National Anthem. If kids objected because of religion or personal beliefs, they could opt out.

But then, the school would notify their parents.

C. ALLAN EGOLF, PENNSYLVANIA STATE LEGISLATURE: I think we need to teach the kids what our flag stands for, why it's a symbol of our country, what it means, why people will go and fight to defend that which, in turn is, of course, defending the Constitution of our country.

FEYERICK: But before it ever went into effect, the law was challenged. JIM RIETMULDER, FOUNDER, THE CIRCLE SCHOOL: From the beginning, our students felt pretty strongly that this law was in violation of constitutional rights.

FEYERICK: Now, a federal judge says the law is unconstitutional -- a victory for those who say patriotism takes many forms.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This case was never about whether saying the Pledge of Allegiance was right or wrong.

FEYERICK: The problem the judge had was notifying parents, Judge Robert Kelly saying it would have a chilling effect on students who would involuntarily recite the pledge or anthem rather than having a notice sent to their parents.

(on camera): Thirty-two states have laws mandating the Pledge of Allegiance or some form of it. Eight of those states passed the law only after 9/11. Pennsylvania was one of them, and they're the only one to require parental notification.

Deborah Feyerick, CNN, New York.


COOPER: Well, should government make reciting the Pledge of Allegiance or singing the National Anthem, for that matter, mandatory in schools?

Jim Rietmulder, founder of the Circle School, says he's all for patriotism, but he fought the new Pennsylvania law. He also won it.

State Representative C. Allan Egolf was the original sponsor of the bill.

They both join us from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. And gentlemen, thanks for being with us.

Congressman Egolf, let me start off with you. Federal court's now ruled this is unconstitutional. Why do you feel it's necessary to compel kids to voice their patriotism?

EGOLF: Well, first of all, they're not compelled to do that. It's only -- we're only compelling the schools to provide, provide the opportunity for children to learn and to say the pledge or to sing the National Anthem. They have that option. They're being compelled.

COOPER: You're saying they're not, you're saying they're not being compelled because they -- if their parents are notified, they can opt out of doing it.

EGOLF: That's correct.


EGOLF: They, they can, they can opt out themselves, but we're just saying that the school needs to notify the parents. In case the parents don't agree with their son or daughter, they can discuss it at home and decide what they want do.

COOPER: Well, let's talk to Jim Rietmulder about that. Jim, what about that? Sounds fair. Parents can opt out. Why, why is that unfair in your mind?

RIETMULDER: The question of whether or not children should recite the pledge, and how we can best cultivate patriotism in children are important questions. But what court settled this case is a slightly different issue. It's a question that needs to come first, and that is the question of who should make those choices.

What the court clearly said was that the choices should be -- that those choices should be the choices of students, parents, and schools, but not government.

So the question is one of government boundaries as much as anything.

COOPER: Well, the congressman, though, is saying that parents did have a choice, that the parents could have signed off on their child not saying the pledge.

RIETMULDER: American ideals are hot stuff. Children take to freedom and responsibility like ducks to water. They don't need the inducement of compulsory laws. They don't need to be forced to be patriots. Children become natural patriots when they're immersed in the American citizenship experience.

It's a more durable way to teach children patriotism, and that's one of the reasons we oppose this law.

COOPER: All right, Representative Egolf, this law really came into being after 9/11. Are you going to appeal this?

EGOLF: I think it is going -- my understanding is that the attorney general is going to appeal this, and I certainly hope that he will. And let me just correct, this was introduced long before 9/11. It just took that long to get through the process, and we finally voted on it after 9/11. So...

COOPER: OK, I appreciate the clarification. Representative Allan Egolf, appreciate you joining us, and Jim Rietmulder as well. Thank you very much.

RIETMULDER: Thank you.


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