Democrat Louisiana state representatives launched an attack against the phrase “all men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence Wednesday in response to the state House’s consideration of an education bill.
State Rep. Barbara Norton (D) led the charge against HB 1035, a measure that would require local school boards of education to have students in grades four to six recite a specified section of the Declaration of Independence after the current daily period of silent prayer or meditation and the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. The bill, introduced by state Rep. Valarie Hodges (R), would require students in the specified grades to recite the following passage:
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.
Hodges, however, tabled her bill under pressure from African-American colleagues Norton and state Rep. Pat Smith (D), who argued that school children should not be required to recite words that were written during a time in history when slavery was prevalent.
Norton said directly to Hodges:
One thing I do know is, all men are not created equal. When I think back in 1776, July the 4th, African-Americans were slaves, and for you to bring a bill to request that our children will recite the Declaration, I think is a little bit unfair to us to ask those children to recite something that’s not the truth.
“Then you don’t think all men are created equal?” Hodges asked Norton.
“For you to ask our children to repeat the Declaration stating that all mens [sic] are free – I think that’s unfair,” Norton continued, adding:
In 1776, Dr. King was not even born. African-Americans were in slavery, so since they were in slavery, the Declaration of Independence say we are ‘all created equal,’ we were not created equal because in 1776, July the 4th, I nor you nor any of us were born, nor was Dr. King born, so we were in slavery, and to have our children repeat again and again documents that were not even validated, I don’t think that that’s fair.
Hodges then proceeded to read Norton what King said about the Declaration of Independence:
This is what Martin Luther King said: “When the architects of our great Republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note which every American was to fall heir…” He said this would guarantee freedom for the rest of our posterity.
Quoting African-American orator and abolitionist Frederick Douglass on the Declaration, Hodges continued, “The principles contained in that instrument are saving principles. Stand by those principles, be true to them on all occasions and in all places…”
However, Smith countered, “Are you aware how they were used against races of people?”
“The Declaration of Independence was used against races of people?” Hodges asked.
“Yes, ma’am,” Smith said, continuing:
They had to recite this at a poll place in order to be able to vote. That was unconscionable that individuals could not vote without having to repeat parts of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. That was a requirement by the southern states. It was used against them. So, if that’s a history lesson for you, it is there…and it does concern me that you’ve only chosen a small portion…why only this portion of the Declaration of Independence?
“Well, the preamble is basically the introduction and it’s good, and the third part is the accusations against the king of England, and so that’s not really necessary, but this part…is so rich –“ replied Hodges, who was then cut off by Smith who said, “But I think there is one word in there that concerns me…that you are endowed by your Creator, and Creator is in capital letters. I don’t believe that if you say that to individuals and have them repeat that then you may be attacking religions in schools.”
According to Nola.com, Norton then proposed an amendment to Hodges’ bill that would have elementary school children recite the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which addresses citizenship rights and was passed as one of the Reconstruction Amendments after the Civil War. Similarly, Smith then proposed an amendment that students recite a text drafted during a Women’s Suffrage conference from the 19th century.
Additionally, state Rep. Ed Price (D) proposed that students recite part of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
Hodges, however, pulled her bill prior to consideration of any of the other amendments.
“It is outrageous that our ELECTED OFFICIALS are unable to discern the difference between a statement of TRUTH…. and past behavior!!!” reads a blog post at the Greater New Orleans Tea Party about the controversy over the Declaration of Independence. “Guess Norton and Smith object to teaching our kids that the earth is round because, in the past, many ignored this truth and acted upon the erroneous belief that the world was flat!!!”