Golden Valley City Council Member Tries but Fails to Remove Pledge of Allegiance from Meetings

The Golden Valley City Council (in Minnesota), like so many other city councils, says the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of its meetings. But council member Steve Schmidgall suggested removing it at last night’s meeting, which turned out to be quite the story:

The first reason is the “one nation under god” phrase makes Schmidgall uncomfortable.

“I grew up in a faith community of Ana-Baptists (which means ‘re-baptized’ in Greek) and with the Apostlic Christian Church and we were treated differently in school when I was a kid,” Schmidgall said. “Bullying was a normal thing, but it didn’t ruin my life. It did make me more sensitive to the separation of church and state.”

The second reason is that saying the Pledge at a council meeting “doesn’t feel appropriate as opposed to saying it on a state or national level,” he said.

“When we say it seems like a prayer to me,” Schmidgall said.

The third reason Schmidgall is bringing up the Pledge at the meeting is “love of country and God are personal and private matters,” he said. “I love the United States of America as much as anyone, but I’m just not showy about it. I prefer to do my duty as a citizen, vote, and participate in city government when the opportunity arises.”

Schmidgall wasn’t on the city council when the Pledge was added to the meeting agenda a year and a half ago. Unfortunately, his attempt to stop the religious ritual failed. The council voted to keep the Pledge in place:

Schmidgall nodded when Mayor Harris affirmed that the council’s consensus was to continue with the Pledge at formal council meetings.

“Obviously there is no disrespect or suspicion cast on anyone, on the council or in the audience, who doesn’t recite the pledge or recites it differently,” Harris said.

After the discussion finished, Schmidgall said he was not surprised by the consensus and knew removing the Pledge from meetings would be an uphill battle.

“As they pointed out a precedent has been set,” Schmidgall said. “I didn’t say it at the meeting tonight, but I was going to suggest that the Pledge could be said outside the Council Chambers before the meeting instead.”

A valiant effort, but he was outnumbered by people who think the Pledge is purely patriotic and have no clue what church/state separation is all about.

While the other council members don’t seem to have a problem with Schmidgall not saying the Pledge and not putting his hand over his heart as they say it, I can’t say the same about the commenters online who seem to think he’s some sort of Kenyan-born, anti-American traitor.

They’re wrong, of course. Schmidgall is so patriotic that he wants the council to abide by the First Amendment and keep religious rituals a private matter.

(Thanks to Brian 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.

  • Mairianna

    “….people who think the Pledge is purely patriotic and have no clue what church/state separation is all about.” This is the problem 99% of the time!

  • Space Cadet

    They’re wrong, of course. Schmidgall is so patriotic that he wants the council to abide by the First Amendment and keep religious rituals a private matter.

    Dissent is the highest form of patriotism- (probably not) Thomas Jefferson

    Good luck, Mr. Schmidgall.

  • Art_Vandelay

    Even beyond the ridiculous “Under God” part, the Pledge always seemed borderline imperialistic to me. That type of thing should only exist in a tyranny. We’re far too diverse to be able to pledge our allegiance to our country and having that actually mean anything. Whatever “liberty” may mean to you, having to pledge your allegiance to something really seems counterproductive to the pursuit of it.

    • Machintelligence

      It’s idolatry, pure and simple. What right does a piece of fabric have to our allegiance?

      • Art_Vandelay

        Well, I agree with you but those that condone these things would probably tell you that it’s what the piece of fabric represents. Then if you asked them what it represents, they’d probably say “freedom.” Then when you pointed out the irony of having to pledge your allegiance to freedom, you’d probably get a blank stare.

  • Oranje

    I don’t understand the necessity of the Pledge the same way I don’t understand the national anthem or religiously-infused Broadway songs during the 7th inning stretch. Mandatory cluttered symbolism.

    • edb3803

      I think they are all ways to make sure your neighbor is just as patriotic as you are. Which is why I don’t care for any of them.

  • Guest

    I say the Pledge all the time when its requested and just omit the words “under gawd”. It takes all of 15-20 seconds and who exactly is the Pledge offending? Non-citizens? And calling the recitation of it a religious ritual is a bit of a stretch. Just exactly what specific religion does the Pledge endorse? Rucking fidiculous. Talk about a waste of time and resources. How much time was wasted at that meeting debating this issue? I’m sure much more than was spent on the Pledge itself. FFS

    • TheG

      Almost as big of a waste of time as the meeting where they proposed, discussed, and passed a resolution requiring the pledge before all meetings.

      But not quite.

      • Guest

        Right, because patriotism and the love of one’s own country is such a horrible thing. We should always fight it and condemn it as wasteful and discriminating. Maybe you should go to your local VFW and let them all know exactly how you feel about this country and their patriotism. I only hope they thank you appropriately.

        • baal

          Not wanting to say the pledge (or take any loyalty oaths for that matter) is very different than going to a VFW and telling the former soldiers that their risks in the name of our country were crap.

          • Guest

            Ya, it’s a real bitch taking 20 seconds out of one’s day to say you support your country. Silly me. I don’t understand why so many people want to come here from other countries. It’s not like we enjoy any special freedoms or liberties that every other nation on this planet doesn’t enjoy. Everyone should have your mind set because citizens that don’t care enough to take 20 seconds out of their day to say something supporting about their nation would make for a much better USA.

            • 3lemenope

              Everyone should have your mind set because citizens that don’t care enough to take 20 seconds out of their day to say something supporting about their nation would make for a much better USA.

              If people were interested in making the things talked about in the Pledge more real (or at least slightly less ironic) instead of mindlessly reciting them, we might indeed do better.

              Is it your opinion that countries which do not have a pledge of allegiance have a citizenry that lacks patriotism?

            • Puzzled

              Yes, they would. What do those special freedom or liberties include – since they clearly do not include such things as not being required to recite mindless bromides about love for country.

            • Michael W Busch

              Ya, it’s a real bitch taking 20 seconds out of one’s day to say you support your country.

              It is if you are being mandated to do it. That isn’t “I support my country”. That’s “you will support your country or else”. Directly opposite message.

              It’s not like we enjoy any special freedoms or liberties that every other nation on this planet doesn’t enjoy.

              There are many countries that ensure their citizens the same freedoms and liberties that the US does. There are many that don’t. But the US doesn’t have a monopoly on having a good society.

            • Tobias2772

              I have always found it rather oxymoronic to have a mandatory pledge of allegiance.

        • 3lemenope

          Reciting the pledge is no more patriotism than reciting a psalm is Christianity. They’re just words unless a person actually believes them; only then could it be claimed that reciting the words is doing something, if even something no more complicated than indicating sincerely held beliefs and/or values.

          Compelled recitation basically guarantees that the recitation cannot be used as a marker of sincerity. Hence, it destroys the putative point of the recitation in the first place. Once the pledge is automatic, I can no longer look upon someone who recites the words in that context as indicating their patriotism.

          Maybe you should go to your local VFW and let them all know exactly how you feel about this country and their patriotism. I only hope they thank you appropriately.

          Given that, due to the current date, the vast majority of those who belong to the local VFW would be veterans of Vietnam, I think the attitudes towards patriotism and country therein might be shockingly different than what you seem to expect.

        • Daniel Munoz

          Patriotism by itself is not that very good, though… I lived several years in Venezuela, and at all schools they had to sing the national anthem every morning before classes. The national anthem was played on all TV channels at 6 am, noon, 6 pm and midnight, punctually… look what has happened to Venezuelan minds with that… they cannot reject anything that comes with a “patriotic message” or from somebody who endorses the name of Bolivar…

        • TheG

          If you see more value in an empty 20 second compulsory facade than in actual service to your country, no wonder your values are so out of whack. As someone who HAS served in the military (you can meet me at the officer’s club in Colorado Springs anytime… if they’ll let you in), I refuse to let you put more weight into a meaningless recitation than years of sweat and action. Your ideology clearly trumps your patriotism, yet you lecture me? Blow it out your flag.

    • Puzzled

      It doesn’t endorse a specific religion, but it endorses monotheism generally. That aside, though, I will not pledge allegiance sight-unseen. If the government wishes to have my allegiance, it will have to behave in a way I find acceptable. Currently, with the wars I do not want fought in my name and our corporate control structure, I have no reason to give my allegiance.

      • Guest

        Why do you remain here if you dislike it so much? I’m sure there are more appealing options on this globe for you. And I’m sure you can enjoy the same freedoms and liberties that you enjoy here. It’s not like other countries would do anything to you if you refused to pledge your allegiance to it. It’s not like they would jail you, or kill you or cut off your social networking and internet access. Just pick one and enjoy.

        • Puzzled

          You’re invoking here a particularly odious sort of fallacy that, I would guess, you would not accept in other areas of life. You wouldn’t say, for instance, that a murderer should be considered innocent if there were some other murderer around who killed more people.

          Really, what does China’s internet policy have to do with our bailouts? Things are right or wrong, it isn’t all relative.

          Furthermore, the rest of the world is not how you imagine it. You’ve been fed a pack of lies by US media. When other countries do the things we do, the media portrays their leaders as the next Hitlers. When the US does it, they fawn over our leaders.

          More importantly, these vaunted liberties you speak about (you do remember during the Cold War being told how bad the USSR was, with examples like surveillance, aggression, plutocracy, and internal checkpoints, right?) can never serve as a reason to abandon liberty. If the US is good because it is free, then you can’t defend every loss of freedom by reference to the US’ greatness. The most basic liberty is freedom of thought. If I am not free to decide on my thoughts about the country, but am required to mouth platitudes, then I am not free – and thus freedom is no reason to pledge allegiance.

          If you want allegiance, act in a way that commands it. This isn’t difficult.

    • Edmond

      Not if the pledge is said every day, day in and day out. That would quickly add up to many wasted hours, days and weeks. The pledge doesn’t need to endorse a SPECIFIC religion to be objectionable. Expecting a citizen to insert “under God” makes it religious enough. Expecting a citizen to OMIT “under God” begins to undermine the purpose of the pledge. What ELSE can they simply choose to omit? One wonders at the point of a “pledge” which is purportedly voluntary, may be altered at will, and has no punishment for breaking. If it only takes “all of 15-20 seconds”, then any council members who wish to say it can take the time BEFORE meetings and do so. They don’t need to stop city business daily for grandstanding shows of patriotism.

    • skinnercitycyclist

      Pledges are un-American in their essence. I refuse to say it, not on religious grounds (though those apply), but because I am an American, goddammit, and I do not have to. Also, I spent 4 years in the US Army and upon entering that service swore an oath to uphold the constitution. Oath still stands and the PoA can go to hell.

    • C Peterson

      Just exactly what specific religion does the Pledge endorse?

      It endorses religion, period. It endorses a belief system that is based on a deity. By using that deity’s name (God) it is rather clearly biased towards the Abrahamic religions.

      It states an absolute falsehood, that we are one nation under this god. And it is exclusionary to atheists and religionists outside the Abrahamic tradition.

      There are two very valid reasons that a person of conscience might choose to avoid saying the pledge: it includes a religious statement, and the very idea of such a pledge might be seen as fundamentally in opposition to what it means to be patriotic in the U.S.

    • Art_Vandelay

      20 seconds…now multiply that by the number of students in schools in America and multiply that number by the # of school days in a year and tell me how much time is wasted turning our kids into sheep when we could be educating them?

    • abb3w

      “Just exactly what specific religion does the Pledge endorse?”

      First, religious endorsement doesn’t have to be specific to constitute establishment.

      Second, you might look up Robert Bellah’s classic (1967) article on “Civil religion in America”. For Christians who take the prohibition of idolatry very seriously, the flag pledge is problematic.

    • Tobias2772

      I would ask – what good is it doing ??

  • BobaFuct

    I’ve definitely become much more jaded on the pledge over the last couple of years. I mean, serving one’s country is great and all, but pledging allegiance to it in a mindless chant is a little medieval for me…and really, you’re pledging allegiance to a piece of cloth, which I don’t really even understand. I’d like to say to people that most foreigners think we’re loons for our rabid patriotism and crazy obsession with the flag, but they’d probably beat the shit out of me for hating America.

  • TheG

    Did anybody else read his remarks and wonder if “Ana Baptists” were a group of devout religious Christians that had revivals in a tent where people would dance and faint and then throw up their dinners after taking a communion of ipecac and chocolate ExLax?
    Damn, I was in behavioral health too long.

  • Amenhotepstein

    While everyone else is saying the pledge, I recite the first amendment. It takes almost exactly the same amount of time!

    • 3lemenope

      The PoA contains 49 syllables, while the 1st contains 74. You must really motormouth through it!

    • Michael W Busch

      I just got into the habit of not saying anything.

    • allein

      I stopped saying the pledge in high school. It was just getting old saying it every day. I would stand but I didn’t bother with putting my hand over my heart or even mouthing the words. If anyone ever noticed, they apparently didn’t care.

  • JET

    I gave up saying the Pledge years ago and at that time it had nothing to do with the “under God” part. It first started to make me uncomfortable when half of the young men I knew were shipped off to Viet Nam and came home completely screwed up, or didn’t come home at all. Reciting the Pledge of Allegience sounded too much like “My Country, Right or Wrong” to me and I just couldn’t buy into that. Rote allegience to principles I vehemently disagreed with was contrary to those I valued – namely liberty and the freedom to have an opinion other than the one I was told by the government to have.
    I feel very fortunate to have been born in the U.S. as I truly value my relative freedom compared with much of the world. But I certainly don’t think that the U.S. has a lock on all that is righteous and good. My relatives in the UK feel just as fortunate. Blind, unquestioning patriotism is against the principles upon which any free country is founded.

  • abb3w

    Insert obligatory references to the Gobitis and Barnette cases….

    • 3lemenope

      Heh. The most important thing about those cases is actually what happened between them. An 8-1 decision turning into a 6-3 decision the other way with only a three year gap is utterly unheard of in SCOTUS jurisprudence for any major point of law.

      What caused the turnabout was the incredibly vicious bout of sustained violence against Jehovah’s Witnesses (the plaintiffs in both cases) nationwide as people took the decision against the JWs as an indictment of their patriotism by the court.

      It’s a great incident to point to to show that disapproval expressed by government towards vulnerable groups is no joke and often has horrible effects, something that people in the majority (in my experience) have a hard time understanding.

      • abb3w

        That’s part of it; probably the biggest part, tied to Nazi Germany becoming infamous for government-sanctioned mistreatment of religious minorities in between.

        The other part is that there’s actually a subtle legal distinction between how the cases were presented, which allowed the SCOTUS to pirouette on the head of a stare decisis pin. Gobitis was presented as “this is offensive to our religion”, to which the SCOTUS said “tough cookies”; Barnette said “this violates freedom of speech, by forcing us to say something we may not want to”, to which the SCOTUS responded “and that would be Wrong“.

  • Makoto

    I started off never adding “under God” to the pledge, as it didn’t seem right. I knew that this was a secular nation even growing up, and back when I was willing to say the pledge, so relating it to any particular god(s) seemed wrong.

    Later on, but still when I was a kid at school, I really started thinking about the pledge.. and decided it was inappropriate. Yes, I like my country. I recognize that it can do great things and terrible things, and has great and terrible citizens. I as a citizen won’t recite an oath to its flag.. though I will do my best to ensure it is the best it can be.

    Daily recited oaths just rub me the wrong way in most cases, no matter how noble or good the cause is. Either you’re for the cause or not, and spouting off words in a robot-like group chant means nothing for it.

  • FeminAtheist

    I am an out atheist in Golden Valley! I have been commenting on the Mayors Facebook thread this morning on this issue. So far it is positive.

  • averydashwood

    My wife is from Iran. When she was a schoolchild, she had to sing patriotic songs and raise her fist and chant “Death to America” over and over again. Religion and state were neatly merged, and patriotism and religious observance were one and the same. Does anyone envy that life? That’s what conservatives seem to be pushing for all the time in this country. By the way, I live in Golden Valley and I will be very supportive of Mr. Schmigdall in the future.

  • Michael Harrison

    About a decade ago, I came to the conclusion that mandatory loyalty oaths are meaningless.