Windsor ends Pledge of Allegiance at Selectboard meetings; Hartford continues the practice

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/28/2020 9:57:38 PM
Modified: 7/29/2020 9:37:33 PM

Members of the Selectboard in Windsor have opted to end the practice of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance before meetings, while in Hartford, the board agreed to continue the tradition.

After renewing a discussion that began in June, the Windsor Selectboard voted on Tuesday night to do away with the pledge at the start of its meetings.

Board members James Reed, Chris Goulet and Amanda Smith voted in favor, while Chairwoman Heather Prebish voted against and member Paul Belaski abstained.

Before the vote, board members restated their positions on discontinuing the ritual, which was the subject of a lengthy discussion at a June 30 meeting.

“It is simply un-American to compel someone to say or do some political action,” Goulet said.

He added that he is “no longer able to recite that pledge without feeling that it’s not the same value for everyone.”

Prebish read a letter from resident Lori Moeykens, who referred to the pledge’s origin as a marketing campaign for a company that sold flags.

“I continue to be amazed at how many people find fault with the flag,” she wrote, adding that “I don’t really care if it was a marketing campaign.”

“Liberty and justice for all,” Moeykens wrote. “If we haven’t got it right yet, let’s keep trying.”

Most of the residents who spoke during Tuesday’s Zoom meeting, which had 33 participants, spoke in favor of at least reassessing whether the board’s meetings should start with the pledge.

“I think that in the year 2020, we can evolve,” said Rachel Bogart, who said that as a teacher, she wouldn’t want to have the bulk of her class opt out of the pledge. “I think it’s incredibly important to us to teach inclusivity.”

Meanwhile in Hartford, a similar discussion resulted in a different outcome.

After a lengthy public comment session Tuesday night, and with input from almost every board member, the Selectboard agreed to continue to incorporate the pledge into its biweekly meetings. There was not a formal vote.

“Look at (the pledge) as what we aspire to, what we’ll always aspire to,” board member Joe Major, a veteran, said at the meeting, and encouraged opponents of the pledge not to judge the language through the lens of modern politics.

The question of whether to eliminate the pledge in Hartford was first raised at a Selectboard meeting two weeks ago, partly due to the debate in Windsor. During that meeting, some board members aired their concerns with language in the pledge, specifically the reference to “one nation under God.”

Hartford board members Emma Behrens and Alicia Barrow worried that the language — especially spoken ahead of a government meeting — blurred the lines between church and state.

The question of whether to eliminate the pledge raised both concern and support among residents, many of whom tuned in to the virtual meeting to discuss the issue ahead of the final vote.

“I think this has been a tradition in our town for a long time,” said former Hartford member Mike Morris at the meeting. “I don’t know what harm it’s doing to anybody to say the pledge.”

Another resident, Marcy Bartlett, also supported keeping the pledge, saying that those in attendance are free not to participate and shouldn’t be shamed or harassed if they opt out.

Barrow said she received a hateful email that included death threats when she declined to stand for the pledge at her first board meeting earlier this spring.

“Let’s reject the culture of fear, the climate of disintegration, and work together in a piece of unity,” Bartlett said.

There were a number of residents who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting in favor of nixing the pledge, including Ed Taylor, who said there are already “entire holidays dedicated to the military industrial complex.”

He said the pledge romanticizes a flawed country.

“(The pledge keeps) the rose-colored lenses over our eyes in the face of the demonstrable terror that’s going on,” Taylor said.

Resident Asma Elhuni, the co-founder of Rise! Upper Valley, a grassroots social justice organization, objected to keeping the pledge during board meetings, saying that the “whole nation” is currently talking about how people of color have been treated historically in the United States.

“Not only have we mistreated them but we have abused them,” she said. “Remove the pledge and stand in solidarity as we get better. We are not getting better.”

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