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On Civic Virtue and Mandatory Patriotism

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2 Responses

  1. A.J. Sutter says:

    I’m sorry, I don’t see how the type of program you describe is necessarily patriotic or encouraging of civic virtue, even if the school’s program isn’t critical of the Constitution. For example, wouldn’t a program that simply informs students of their rights under the Constitution, or otherwise informs them of the document’s contents in a matter-of-fact manner, also satisfy the funding requirement? Wouldn’t a program that presents your own argument for why Constitution Day is unconstitutional under the First Amendment (which, while critical of the federal statute, seems neither critical of the Constitution nor necessarily overtly patriotic) also satisfy it?

    If I am right, then your question,”Does our judgment of what constitutes a valid exercise of the federal government’s power to encourage civic virtue depend on the content of what is being encouraged?” is ill-posed because it makes a logical leap: it unjustifiably assumes that civic virtue is being encouraged. If, in operation, most programs are celebratory of the Constitution, that would seem to be the right of the school administrators, but not required under the statute as you have described its contents. The Pledge of Allegiance example is distinguishable, because it does require speech expressing civic virtue (or appearing to express it). The Islam example is also distinguishable, since it penalizes certain types of speech.

    I’m no expert in this field, but may I suggest that a better hypo might be a law along the lines of “every school receiving federal funds is required to offer an educational program about the enslavement and genocide of the Tupi people in what is now Brazil.” No doubt there may be some Tupi descendants living in the US, but still, the connection to the US is quite attenuated. I suggest that as matters of degree go, the statute about Constitution Day does seem a more reasonable use of Congressional power, on the basis of content. I admit that this judgement rests on a belief that educating American students about US history and institutions, and about the laws that apply to such students, should be a higher priority for American governmental units than educating American students about historical events in other parts of the world that occurred prior to the existence of the US (with the caveat that prioritization of one doesn’t entail exclusion of the other). But neither civic virtue nor viewpoint bias is a necessary element of my judgment.

  2. nidefatt says:

    I would think the government shouldn’t be encouraging anything. Introducing, educating, exposing, that seems fine. I’d think a government imposed civics class would require study of the workings of government and philosophy, and could even require students to engage in community service, none of which would “encourage” much of anything. I kind of doubt you could truly “encourage” high school students without forming a group. Like a “American Society” that meets at lunch. That’s the kind of thing that draws the extreme and builds into ugliness. Young Russia comes to mind.

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