Pledge of Allegiance sparks debate

At Town Council meeting
Fri, 05/12/2017 - 10:00am

What started out as a civil, thoughtful discussion about the Town Council reciting the Pledge of Allegiance at one meeting a month quickly devolved into a heated divisive debate between people on different sides of the issue, and the political spectrum. 

First Warden Ken Lacoste said he made a “unilateral decision” in placing the Pledge of Allegiance on the agenda at the Town Council's first meeting of the year in January. He said he made that decision after researching how other towns in Rhode Island run their meetings. “Most begin with a salute to the flag and a prayer,” said Lacoste. “So, I thought it might be a nice gesture” to recite it at the first meeting of the month prior to pubic comment.

Councilor Martha Ball told Lacoste that he did not have majority consensus in making the decision to place the pledge on the Council’s agenda at that first meeting. “We did have a conversation prior to the first meeting,” she said. “There was not a consensus in favor of doing it.”

Second Warden Norris Pike said he agreed with Ball, and that the Pledge of Allegiance has never been recited during a Town Council meeting in the history of the Town of New Shoreham. “It’s unprecedented. It’s never been done here,” he said.

“I don’t have a problem with it — if you want to do it at the first meeting (of the month),” said Councilor Chris Willi, who noted that he grew up in a military family.

John Willis said he was wondering why the Pledge had not been continued at Council meetings after it was recited at the first meeting. “Once you start it, and you did start it, the worst thing you could have done is stop it,” he said. “That flag represents everybody in the United States — every single person in this country. If the flag is offensive to you, then you don’t belong here.”

Resident Bob Fallon said he was in favor of reciting the Pledge. “There are at least three of us here who served in Vietnam.” Four men at the meeting stated that they served during Vietnam: Fallon, Willis, Ray Torrey and Bill McKernan. “It’s worth fighting for,” said Fallon.

Resident Gloria Redlich said, “I think we’re all clear that as Americans we value our symbols. We value the symbol of the flag. But I would ask all of you to think about what those symbols stand for. The principle of dissent, for example, is inherent in what our country’s values stand for... Those of us who do not feel comfortable standing, or pledging, may be the minority, but are protecting the values that our flag stands for. I don’t believe that we should legislate patriotism.”

Torrey said that he agreed with Redlich. “This seems to me like an unnecessary wedge issue,” he said. “We live in dark times. To come in here and imply that there is a lack of patriotism on our Town Council is a divisive issue — with the nation so polarized, so bitter — I’m worried that it might lead to a divided populace here on the island. And I just don’t like it.”

“I think you have people here on the island who are leery about enforcing, or legislating patriotism,” added Torrey. “I don’t know if I made myself clear.”

“Clear as a bell,” said Pike.

“I don’t think we’re trying to force anything,” said Lacoste, noting that it’s a person’s choice if they want to salute or not. “I feel by not doing it — I feel somewhat less.”

“I agree with Ray, and Gloria,” said Councilor André Boudreau. “If you want to recite it during public comment that’s fine, but I don’t think we should legislate it. I don’t think we should have a policy that mandates it.”

“I am embarrassed,” said John Willis. “What I’m seeing here is putting politics ahead of patriotism.” After making his remarks, Willis pointed to Redlich, and said, “You should be ashamed of yourself,” and then walked out of the room. 

“That’s the kind of ostracism, or humiliation, that the person who dissents is subject to,” said Redlich. She then directed her remarks at Lacoste. “I must say, the idealism that you have expressed, most of us feel, but I object to legislating it.”

“I’m astounded that this is something that we’re even debating,” said Bill McKernan, who is in favor of the Pledge. “It’s not legislation. It’s procedure. I’m astonished that this is even controversial. When do you end with this politically correct nonsense?”

Lacoste said the Town Council would be taking no action on the item.

The next Town Council meeting is Wednesday, May 17 at 7 p.m.