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What does North Dakota's governor want from Pledge of Allegiance law?

North Dakota allows schools to authorize voluntary recitation of the pledge, so what would Gov. Doug Burgum propose to make it stronger?

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From left, East Grand Forks Republican Caucus attendees Dave Sundine, Barbara Bjornstad, Cheryl Sundine and Brenda Westacott recite the Pledge of Allegiance with other caucus-goers March 1, 2016, at the East Grand Forks Senior Center.
Eric Hylden / Grand Forks Herald
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FARGO — When North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum said he wanted to make sure elected officials and students can say the Pledge of Allegiance, some asked what that means.

The governor said his administration is working with lawmakers to create a law that would “guarantee that the opportunity exists to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, as other states have done,” at public schools and for governing bodies. The announcement came after the Fargo School Board decided this month to stop reciting the patriotic verse that declares loyalty to the United States.

The board's decision sparked national attention and criticism , prompting them to ultimately change course. On Thursday, Aug. 18, school board members voted 8-1 to resume saying the oath at meetings.

But before the week was out, Burgum weighed in on the controversy.

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Gov. Doug Burgum speaks to state agency leaders about budget requests at the North Dakota Capitol on May 5, 2022.
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service

“As North Dakotans and Americans, we believe strongly in the value of this traditional and powerful affirmation that we are one nation, united under one flag, with liberty and justice for all, aspiring toward a more perfect union and acknowledging that such noble work never ends,” Burgum said in a statement.

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More details about what he would like to see in the law or how it would work were not released by his office. The governor was unavailable this week for an interview with The Forum.

When asked what the bill would do and how it would impact schools, Burgum spokesman Mike Nowatzki said there is no bill yet.

“Those are details that will be worked out with lawmakers and will be released publicly when the recommendation goes to the Legislature,” Nowatzki said in an email.

But what does North Dakota's Century Code say on the pledge? What have other states done? And how could Burgum reshape his state's law?

Current law

The North Dakota Legislature passed a law in 2021 that gives schools the authority to allow students to say the Pledge of Allegiance. Burgum signed into law the bill that also says schools can display the Ten Commandments in district buildings.

State Sen. Janna Myrdal, R-Edinburg, co-sponsored the bill. Most of the debate on her legislation surrounded the Ten Commandments.

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Sen. Janne Myrdal, R-Edinburg, voiced her support for Senate Bill 2030 on the Senate floor on Monday, April 26. She said universities will not face adverse consequences from the bill as long as they don't partner with anyone or any organization that supports abortion. Michelle Griffith / The Forum.

Myrdal said she contacted Burgum’s office and asked the governor to look at the language of the current law. She said she would welcome working with him on legislation to make the law stronger and better.

“I’m glad the governor picked it up. I’m glad national news picked it up,” she said.

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Other states have more strict laws than North Dakota when it comes to saying the pledge. Minnesota requires its public and charter schools to recite the oath at least once a week.

South Dakota’s law more closely resembles Burgum’s call to action.

“Each school district shall provide students the opportunity to salute the United States and the flag each day by reciting the pledge of allegiance to the flag of the United States,” according to South Dakota’s law.

Requiring schools and governing bodies to “provide the opportunity” to say the pledge is not the same as mandating people to recite it, Nowatzki said. In 1943, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that schools cannot force students to say the pledge.

"North Dakota law also says schools can't force students to say the pledge,” Nowatzki noted.

“Again, it’s about requiring an opportunity to say the Pledge of Allegiance, which the governor believes is a traditional and powerful affirmation of the American ideals upon which our country was founded,” he said.

Minnesota and South Dakota allow students to abstain from saying the oath.

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Karla Rose Hanson

Citing the Ten Commandments portion of the law passed last session, Rep. Karla Rose Hanson, D-Fargo, voted against the legislation because it would bring a religious document into public schools. She called Burgum’s potential legislation unnecessary.

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“I don’t think whether or not a governing body says the pledge impacts the quality of work it does,” she said.

Myrdal said it’s bizarre that people think reciting the pledge is decisive or offensive. People have the choice to walk out or not say it, she noted.

“I kneel for Christ, and I stand for the flag,” she said.

How it started

Former Fargo Public School Board member David Paulson requested earlier this year that the governing body start saying the pledge, which they ultimately approved in March. Paulson told The Forum in a voicemail that other governing boards, including school boards, start meetings with the pledge.

He called it an affirmation of a person’s loyalty to the country.

“It’s a shame that they couldn’t have left it alone after it passed it,” he said of the board’s Aug. 9 action.

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Vice President of the Fargo School Board Seth Holden talks about whether the board should allow for reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance, on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2022, in Fargo.
Alyssa Goelzer/The Forum

Board member Seth Holden asked the board to consider whether it should stop saying the pledge at meetings. Known for not reciting the pledge, Holden said the words “under God” refer to a Judeo-Christian god and exclude other religions.

Holden was one of six members to change their votes Thursday after receiving numerous messages from across the country, some of which were threatening.

When asked about Burgum’s call for legislation on the matter, Holden noted Burgum is the governor of North Dakota and has the right to push for such a law.

“It seems like he just wants to make sure it is on all of our … board agendas so that people have the opportunity to do it rather than doing what we did and then not having it on our agenda,” Holden told The Forum before the vote.

April Baumgarten joined The Forum in February 2019 as an investigative reporter. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, N.D., where her family raises Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at the University of Jamestown, N.D.
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