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Jim Kenyon: Windsor Selectboard puts pledge on the edge

  • Jim Kenyon. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

Valley News Columnist
Published: 7/4/2020 9:40:45 PM
Modified: 7/4/2020 9:40:43 PM

For as long as I can recall, the Windsor Selectboard has started its meetings by asking everyone to stand and join in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

“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.”

On May 11, 1993, then-Windsor board Chairman Bill Hochstin took the routine to a new level. He asked anyone not intending to say the pledge to leave the board room. (Later, Hochstin said he was offended that a Valley News correspondent who regularly covered the board’s meetings had a habit of not participating.)

“If people make a statement by not pledging the flag, they can make a statement outside the room,” said Hochstin, who served in the military during the Vietnam War.

The next day, state officials said so-called pledge rules were illegal. Hochstin then clarified: It was only a request; he wasn’t forcing anyone to leave.

In the 27 years since, elections and retirements have changed the board’s makeup many times over. But the practice of reciting the pledge has lived on.

Maybe not for much longer.

At its next meeting on July 28, the board is expected to vote on forgoing the pledge at the start of its meetings. At a Zoom meeting that more than 60 residents tuned into last Tuesday, four of the board’s five members expressed support for mothballing the practice.

The pledge is an “incredibly difficult thing to talk about,” board member Chris Goulet said. “It means quite a bit to a lot of people. For some, it lifts them up. For others, it does not.”

Resident Shannon Smith added, “Liberty and justice for all is not true for many of our community members.”

Count me among those who recited the pledge in elementary school out of a sense of duty — a kid just following orders. It took a long time for me to see the pledge differently — a hollow attempt by the powers that be, from school principals to U.S. presidents, to aggrandize patriotism.

Even before police killed George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, on a Minneapolis street on Memorial Day, America has too often fallen short of the ideals that the pledge fosters.

The best argument I’ve read for eradicating the pledge from the national landscape appeared last year in The Hill, a Washington news website.

“The pledge’s history is deeply rooted in nativism and white supremacy,” wrote Cesar Vargas, an attorney and co-director of the Dream Action Coalition, a nonprofit group advocating for fair immigration policies.

The pledge sought to “define ‘True Americanism’ that didn’t include people of color and immigrants particularly those coming from southern and eastern Europe,” Vargas wrote.

Not everyone who spoke last Tuesday agreed the pledge no longer deserves a place in Windsor Selectboard meetings.

“God and country is the glue that keeps us all together,” resident Lois Bromley said.

One military veteran said he had “found it inspirational over the years,” and another added that it “would be a disgrace to our flag and country to discontinue.”

As an alternative, Goulet suggested starting board meetings with a one-minute moment of silence. “It’s so much more powerful than any words,” he said, adding that if people were inclined, they could use the time to recite the pledge to themselves.

Board member Amanda Smith used the meeting to offer a brief history lesson. Francis Bellamy, a socialist minister turned marketing guru, wrote the pledge in August 1892. (It reportedly took him just two hours.)

While working at The Youth’s Companion, a national family magazine, Bellamy was tasked with coming up with a catchy phrase or two for a “patriotic program for schools around the country,” Smithsonian Magazine wrote in 2003.

The Youth’s Companion, which had a half-million subscribers, wanted to hype the 400-year anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the New World.

As Smith aptly pointed out, the pledge was the magazine’s vehicle to not only “promote national loyalty, but also sell magazines and flags.”

In 1952, in the midst of the Cold War, Congress approved adding the words “under God,” which were not part of Bellamy’s original works.

The pledge has withstood numerous Supreme Court challenges claiming that it violates the constitution’s separation of church and state. Vermont is among four states that don’t require public schools to set aside time each day for the pledge.

The argument for reciting the pledge at Windsor Selectboard meetings hasn’t changed much in 27 years.

The late Ralph Knox, one of three veterans on the board in 1993, supported Hochstin’s attempt to clear the room of nonbelievers. “Too many guys spilled blood for that flag” to not do it, Knox said at the time.

After leaving a phone message for Hochstin, who still lives in Windsor, I heard back. The “controversy,” as he called it, was politely worked out, he said in a return phone message.

Many governing boards in Upper Valley towns have already eliminated the pledge, if they ever recited it to begin with. In checking with more than a dozen communities last week, I came across three holdouts — Canaan, Hartford and Lebanon. (I’m sure that I missed a few.)

The Windsor Selectboard’s willingness to tackle the issue reflects a changing of the guard. Four of the five board members were elected in the last two years.

On Tuesday night, Mike Quinn, a former board member, praised the current board for holding a “landmark meeting that shows courage, civility and a willingness to discuss difficult issues.”

In a few weeks, the board will have to decide what to do. Customs can die hard. It’s long past the time that this one did.

Jim Kenyon can be reached at

Valley News

24 Interchange Drive
West Lebanon, NH 03784


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