Falmouth Residents Up in Arms because City Council Member Skipped the Pledge of Allegiance

What prompted hundreds of people to rally outside Town Hall in Falmouth, Massachusetts earlier this week?

Was it corruption by the mayor? No.

Was it anger about a policy decision? No.

Were they protesting against the 1%? No.

They were pissed off because Melissa Freitag, the Vice Chairman of the Board of Selectmen (a.k.a. City Council), was stepping in for the Chairman (who was out for medical reasons) and — wait for it — she decided not to say the Pledge of Allegiance:

As acting chairman, Freitag started last Monday night’s meeting with a poem, then went on to say she’d “rather not” say the pledge. She then quickly moved on to the night’s business.

She skipped the meaningless ritual and got right down to work… and people are upset?!

That’s what you’re supposed to want your city officials to do!

Many who gathered on the Falmouth green called Freitag’s actions “unpatriotic.”

Others argued that as an elected official who took an oath, she should have left her personal opinion at home.

“She’s under oath and the Board of Selectmen made it a policy that they say the Pledge of Allegiance. She ignored policy and ignored her oath,” said Ted Theis, a Vietnam veteran.

Dick Bolduc, a Korean War veteran, said “substituting the pledge with a poem? Give me a break! People spilled good blood for that flag.”

Right. They’re all mad because she “ignored her oath.” As if people come to Selectmen meetings to make sure everyone is following it… As if getting right down to business is a violation of some important moral code… As if they weren’t really upset because God was left out of the meeting.

Seriously, how much do you want to bet that the people protesting had no idea what was on the meeting agenda that night? Their only concern is whether god was included in the mix.

Monday night, Freitag did join the rest of the selectmen on the Town Hall green to recite the pledge. She did not, however, say the words “under God.”

She again omitted those words once back inside Town Hall, when she stood for the pledge at the selectmen’s meeting.

After the meeting, Freitag said she regretted it if she offended anyone last week.

I don’t know what Freitag’s religious beliefs are or whether she’s an atheist. But it doesn’t matter. She did something harmless and the whole city seems up in arms over nothing. If only they were as passionate about the things the Selectmen did during the substantive part of the meeting, maybe the city would be in better shape.

(Thanks to Kim for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

    Are they suggesting that she took an oath where she promised she would say the Pledge of Allegiance? Somehow, I doubt that’s the case. I also expect that the complainers here are confusing “policy”, which is formal and usually written, with “tradition”, which simply reflects how things have generally been conducted.

    As somebody who sits on the local school board, and who has attended many public meetings, the meeting chair normally has a good deal of discretion in how the meeting is actually conducted. Usually, there are only a few specific rules found in the organization charter or bylaws (things like using Robert’s Rules of Order, for instance).

    Again, we hear a lot of noise from people who are simply spouting conditioned responses, and not applying the slightest bit of thought to their words.

    • Annie

      This is from the linked article above:

      “Fellow selectmen later told NewsCenter 5 that they were caught off guard
      by Freitag’s exclusion of the pledge, since she was on the board 2 1/2
      years ago when the board voted that the board would start each meeting
      with the Pledge of Allegiance.”

      The article also said that she was the only one who voted against it.

      Personally, I think it is silly to even spend time deciding if you are going to say the pledge, but since they did, I can see why people would be upset.

      • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

        But a vote like that doesn’t necessarily set policy. In fact, it’s entirely possible that the vote itself violated existing policy. Most boards don’t actually understand their own policy, and frequently fail to observe it or outright violate it.

        You can’t legally require anybody to say the Pledge of Allegiance. So if this woman was functioning as meeting chair under board policy, and was somehow required by policy to say the Pledge, there’s a conflict in place.

        • Annie

          Honestly, I am not at all familiar or fluent in the way town boards set up their meetings, so feel free to correct me if you know otherwise:

          I would think voting on reciting the pledge before each meeting would not necessarily violate anyone’s rights.  Reciting the pledge and forcing someone to say the pledge are two different things.  I imagine many town meetings start with the pledge of allegiance. 

          I have to say also that I am not at all a fan of the pledge.  I’m just trying to understand why so many people would be outraged, and suspect someone from the board must have informed the public (and the media).  For some reason, someone on the board believed that the pledge was an official part of their meeting, and at the same time, Freitag felt she had the option of excluding it. From the wording of the linked article, it appears to me that Freitag did not follow the board’s agreed upon protocol for opening meetings.

          • Onamission5

            It may just be a matter of semantics, but I have to disagree with this part, “I would think voting on reciting the pledge before each meeting would not necessarily violate anyone’s rights. Reciting the pledge and forcing someone to say the pledge are two different things. ” If, in this case, it is true that she had objections of conscience to saying the pledge in the first place, had voted against the saying, and then was expected to go against her objections just because the majority decided she should. That sounds a lot to me like being forced instead of just reciting.  If she was a JW, she’d have been able to abstain on religious grounds, but someone who has no religious objection and rather has ethical, political or conscience objections is due no recourse?

            Of course she could have asked another board member to lead the pledge and just abstained, but it seems to me that she was maybe trying to make a point. At least I would have been, were it me.

          • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

            I agree- the decision to recite the Pledge before each meeting doesn’t obviously violate anybody’s rights. Where the situation becomes muddy, however, is where the person assigned to lead it (apparently, the meeting chair) does not want to recite it herself.

            My point was that it’s unclear that any policy was violated here, even if the board had previously agreed to say the Pledge before meetings. There’s a difference between deviating from actual policy, and deviating from tradition or informal protocol.

            A well run board would have formal policy in place that explicitly handled a situation like this (e.g. the chair may lead the Pledge, or appoint another member to do so). But few boards are well run.

            • Annie

              If we were having this conversation over a coffee or beer, I think we would realize we are pretty much in agreement.  ;-)  I did find a website for the board, but there was no special mention of saying the pledge, even though it was present in many of the meeting minutes (which doesn’t really tell us anything).  

  • Stev84

    Forcing people to recite meaningless loyalty pledges is a hallmark of fascist dictatorships

    • Kevin_Of_Bangor

      Everytime I hear of this patriotic bullshit I think of this video..

      “”Very not safe for work language””

      I’m American man, I’m American f*ck all these… “Chris Rock”

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wtIMT3PwpoA

  • Gus Snarp

    Sometimes I just don’t want to live in the same country as these people. How on earth are we ever going to deal with the real issues that divide us if they’re so up in arms over the stupid pledge of allegiance?

  • Guest

    Could somebody tell me why “thousands” suddenly translates to “Roughly 1,000″

    idiots.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1025224665 Matthew Crocker

    A similar kerfluffle is going on here in Corvallis.

    http://www.corvallisadvocate.com/2012/i-pledge-allegiance/

  • martymankins

    Regardless of her beliefs, it seems odd that the religious, who hold a majority, are up in arms about this.  WTF is their problem?  Maybe it’s time for a history lesson, taking us back to pre-1950′s when the pledge was without the “Under God” words.

    • Stev84

      It’s not just about religion either. There are also plenty of people who accuse her of being “unpatriotic” and stuff like that. Though of course for many people religion and patriotism are one and the same

  • Kodie

    I think these people need to have the word “pledge” defined for them. Reciting them over and over again ritually is not what makes “the Pledge” a pledge.  Not reciting them over and over again ritually does not diminish what one pledges, or whether one sincerely pledges. While they are at it, what “allegiance” really means, why the flag takes precedence over the Republic for which it stands, and “liberty” and “justice” for “all.” I wouldn’t even mind a whole meeting re-educating people who are overly attached to a recitation to which they were indoctrinated in school to regard the recitation as more important than what it means to take a pledge, and to mean the words that are recited in it, “under God” being omitted or spoken as one sees fit and not enforced. Pledge is a weird word now. If you introduce facts to these irrational people, however, they will still argue that not saying “the Pledge” means by disregarding the traditional recitation of it, you are defaulting to the position of releasing yourself from the pledge that you already said more than a hundred times before, or that saying it necessitates sincerity, so that not saying it, apparently, sincerely equals treason, right?

    I wonder if there are some people who wake up and start the day with the Pledge even though they aren’t at school anymore. Generally, we go about our day assuming that most people in the US have pledged already and don’t demand the recitation of the Pledge by anyone before we start speaking to them. We are superficial in our regard for fanfare and tradition, but defending this aspect so easily disregard the substance. It seems to be fair to assume anyone interested enough to attend or be a part of the government process is more invested and more apparently pledged than the rest of the general public that they should least need to say it out loud every time they meet.

  • http://www.everydayintheparkwithgeorge.com/ Matt E

    I agree loyalty oaths like the Pledge of Allegiance are empty rituals. I particularly object to the Pledge of Allegiance because it calls on us to pledge our allegiance to the flag which is just a symbol, a colorful piece of fabric. If we want such a pledge to have any semblance of meaning we should pledge allegiance to the Constitution, the ideas the Nation was founded upon.

    While I agree reciting the Pledge is a waste of government time, I must take exception to the way you portrayed this, Hemant. You portrayed Ms. Freitag as not wasting time on the Pledge and getting right down to work. In fact, she replaced one time wasting ritual with another by reading a poem instead. I admit I do not know the content of the poem. I have searched the coverage of the story on line and have not found the text or any reference to its content but I doubt it was deeply germane to the board’s business.

  • Wrprintz

    I proudly say the pledge…because I see it as a personal testimony of my feelings. I also leave out “under god”- as it not only disrupts the meter of the pledge, I would be a liar if I said “under god”  during it.

    As part of my pledge to the flag…that means I know other folks have a right not to pledge. I know that I don’t want to force them into a lie. Any law that would require a pledge is an unjust law, and one that defeats the premise of a pledge….which is a freely given oath or affirmation. COMPELLING someone to give a pledge is a violation of the spirit and intent of the Pledge itself.

    I pledge allegiance, to the Flag, of the United States of America
    And to the Republic, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

    That means “for all”. Each and every person…even the ones that don’t pledge the same thing that I do.

  • Fedupwithfaith

    As you are the friendly Atheist maybe you could help an Atheist out. I have a new Blog and I would really like people to have a read. If you have time that would be great. Thanks all http://fedupwithfaith.blog.com

  • Bob Becker

    Occasionally called on leaving out “under God” when I say the pledge, I just tell people I prefer to say the pledge all of those who fought in WWII [including my father] said when they were growing up… you know, the group sometimes called “the greatest generation”… and that pledge had no “under God” in it.  Seems to have served them and the country well enough.

    Very often, it comes as a surprise to whoever is questioning me that “under God” was not in the pledge their fathers and grandfathers said growing up before they marched off to WWII.       “It’s a way of honoring my Dad,” I tell them, “and all the rest who fought to defeat fascism in WWII.”   That usually shuts them up. 

  • Marguerite

    Given that she omitted the words “under God” in other circumstances, it sounds to me like she was trying to avoid a kerfluffle in the first place. Since as chair, she would be leading the Pledge, 
    it would probably be extremely obvious if she skipped those two words, so she chose not to say it at all. It seems like a reasonable and tactful way of trying to avoid offending anyone, but predictably enough, people feel the need to be offended anyway. 

  • JWH

    It’s a bit silly … but I’d say that if the board had voted to begin their meetings with the pledge, then she is obligated to follow that decision.  If she personally objected to it, there would have been nothing wrong with asking another selectman to lead the pledge.  

  • http://conuly.dreamwidth.org/ Conuly

    Dick Bolduc, a Korean War veteran, said “substituting the pledge
    with a poem? Give me a break! People spilled good blood for that flag.”

    No. People spilled good blood to defend their country* and the Constitution. The flag only has meaning inasmuch it symbolizes those two things. People fought to protect the right to take whatever oaths you wish and not swear things you don’t wish.

    * Well, thinking charitably of the soldiers. The motives behind the wars themselves is another issue and beyond the scope of this comment. Help, I can’t turn off italics!

    • Kodie

       You know what’s really silly is that it seems to be mostly about the flag and that’s the first thing people think of. I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. Short attention span. And to the Republic, for which it stands.  People did ostensibly spill good blood to create and defend the Republic, for which the flag stands, and for the short list of qualities it hopes to embrace and maintain for all, not merely for those who pledge it (or those who learn to memorize it to uphold the ritual of it). Similarly, people think swearing on the bible is the same as telling the truth, or people who think taking down a list of biblical rules from a public building means you can’t write them on a piece of paper and keep them in your wallet. Defending the symbols means more than defending the sentiment that it symbolizes, so much so, that speaking it out loud means more than actually doing what it says you pledge to do. Very meta. Is it more important to save a flag from a burning building than it is to use your voice to discuss why that’s not what’s really important here? It is very bizarre that, I mean, it’s not about a physical flag, even if it sounds like that’s what it is. Your flag means your team still exists. What team are you on, and then because you live here that you must, or because you like our rights?

      I don’t like when people say things they don’t mean, but I also think that not saying it doesn’t mean you don’t mean it. I don’t understand adults being so caught up in it. I know when I was in school, we had a JW who wouldn’t stand to say the pledge, and that was curious to the rest of us, but her religious liberty, and it wasn’t made into an insane issue that she sat it out.

      • http://conuly.dreamwidth.org/ Conuly

         “Similarly, people think swearing on the bible is the same as telling the truth,”

        Hah! You know, Nixon was sworn in on a veritable stack of Bibles and it didn’t do him a lick of good!

        Fun fact: Next time somebody tries to tell you that this is a Christian nation because presidents have to be sworn in on the Bible, point out that at least one of our founding fathers (Adams) was sworn in on a law book instead. And anyway, you can always affirm. (I don’t recall which president affirmed instead of swearing, but at least one has done so.)

  • Glasofruix

    I don’t understand this need for meaningless pieces of text you amercians have. I mean she didn’t recite some monkey speech and that makes her unable to do her job?

    • Onamission5

      For what it’s worth, a lot of us don’t understand it either.

    • http://northierthanthou.com/ nothierthanthou

       It’s not meaningless. It’s meaning is something like; “I am one of you; I care about the same things you do, and I hate the same people you do, and I will walk in step with you people wherever we may need to go, even if that is righht off a cliff.”

      • Glasofruix

         You don’t have to recite it more than once then, because it’s a waste of time.

  • Carla

    I think I’m missing how this has anything to do with religion. Hemant, could you kindly explain the jump from “she left out the pledge” to “people are mad because no one said god”? That wasn’t at all the tone of the article, or the comments by the protesters. It seems to me, barring any further evidence, that you’re making a generalization based on your disagreement with their feelings about the pledge and your resulting low opinion of these people. Like, somehow their being upset about not saying the pledge means they must be religious nuts out to get the good, probably atheist who’s defending our rights. If anyone made this about god, it’s you.

    Freitag was free to not say any or all of the pledge herself, and no one is arguing that she had to personally say it. They were mad that she left it out entirely, despite it being very clear that rest of the council preferred to open with it, in effect forcing them not to say it. A city council meeting is an appropriate forum for the pledge to be said. In a democracy it is inappropriate for one person to assume a position of power and prevent the majority from doing a voted upon action that she is not required to perform, nor is she harmed by having others perform around her. And she wasn’t getting down to brass tacks. The thing takes like 15 seconds to recite, so it’s not exactly an interruption. All she had to do was say, “Councilperson Other, could you lead us in the pledge,” then stand there with her mouth shut, or leave out god, whatever she would normally do. But, “I’d rather not say the pledge,” isn’t really a valid reason to take an appropriate ritual out of an appropriate forum full of people who prefer to have that ritual in place. 

    In the end, all rituals are meaningless, but there is no harm in drawing a sense of comfort and unity from performing them. The people and other council members like their ritual, and she took it away because she just doesn’t like it. She was elected to represent the people, and that doesn’t sound particularly representative to me. Yes, they over -reacted, but no, I don’t think they are wrong. 

    P.S. I’m not agreeing with the pledge, nor the inclusion of the phrase “under god.” I think both are stupid. 

  • http://northierthanthou.com/ nothierthanthou

    I always wonder at the need for medieval military ritual. It is especially hard to reconcile with school policy, with or without the McCarthy era renovations.

  • http://twitter.com/ourdailytrain Our Daily Train blog

    Yeah, various boards in the county I cover recite the pledge before meetings. I stand but don’t parrot the “under God” part. Although I love this country, I usually don’t recite any of the pledge. Seems a little to nationalistic for my tastes.

  • https://twitter.com/#!/OffensivAtheist bismarket

    I don’t know what her religious beliefs are either, but i could take a pretty good guess. It seems these folk would prefer somebody who lied to them & pretended to be someone they’re not than have an ATHEIST working for them? Anything but that!

  • http://twitter.com/catdumpling Cat MacKinnon

    back in high school, i refused to say the Pledge at a pep rally*. i wouldn’t even stand up. in hindsight, it was the “under god” part that i had a problem with, not the Pledge itself (while i fully agree that the PoA is mostly empty pageantry, especially these days, i certainly agree with the sentiment…for whatever it’s worth anymore.)

    anyway, because i even refused to stand, the school security guard actually walked over to me and yelled at me, telling me he’d “send me to the office” for not saying the Pledge, and that i could be suspended or some BS. by the time i got done explaining how i was in a PUBLIC school and had no obligation to do any such thing, the rest of the school had long since finished saying the pledge and were eyeball-deep in the ridiculous cheerleader routine.

    teenage rebellion is often adorably misguided (or at least really awkward), but in this case, 18 years late, i’m still quite proud of myself for that one (as opposed to the time that we went and jammed about 2 dozen potatoes up the tailpipes of the cars of people who picked on us. not a particularly proud moment, although it still makes me laugh thinking about;)

    *[ that was the one and only pep rally i ever went to at that school. from that point on, we turned every pep rally and ridiculous school assembly into a Mission Impossible-style game on how to sneak out of school and ditch those types of assemblies without getting caught. ah, good times.]

    • amycas

       I was in band so I had to go to every pep rally and game. However, I hadn’t said the pledge for years (since about fifth grade I think) by the time I was in high school. Nobody ever yelled at me for it though. I did get yelled at in 7th grade (the one year that I was forced to go to pep rallies and I wasn’t in the band) for not standing up during the rally. I had a headache so I just sat down in the bleachers. One of my teachers came over and said she’d write me up if I didn’t stand. I told her I didn’t feel well but I stood up anyway. Once she walked off I sat right back down. After that week I almost always found an excuse to stay in my last class (my theater arts teacher didn’t like pep rallies, so she never attended).

  • Daniel Ruth

    No one should chant the Pledge of Allegiance because it was the origin of the Nazi salute and Nazi behavior (see the work of the historian Dr. Rex Curry). When stories such as the one above come out, the old news media will never mention the Pledge’s putrid past, nor print a photo or video of the early American stiff-armed salute. If they did, then no one would stand for the pledge. The pledge continues to be the source of Nazi behavior wherein government schools (socialist schools) begin each day by teaching bullying and peer pressure and punish dissenters. The pledge is a daily repetition of the Milgram experiment and a demonstration of the banality of evil. It is sad to see that the news today has two stories: an adult selectwoman politician in Falmouth, MA who cowardly caved in to bullying regarding the pledge, and a 13-year-old student in …a government school in Brownsville, PA who is not a coward and who defied the pledge despite ongoing persecution from cowardly adults. Francis Bellamy is sometimes referred to as America’s Leni Riefenstahl because of his earlier influence on spreading socialism (and the stiff-armed gesture) through government schools et cetera. Of course, Bellamy was a religious wacko, a “Christian socialist” and his original pledge was a small part of his much larger pledge program replete with hymns, prayers, references to the Bible and God, including the phrase “under God.” That is why the original pledge program cannot be performed in government schools, only the pledge’s tiny part (to which the deifiication was also added in 1954).


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X