After an emotional and tense special meeting Wednesday night, the Enfield Town Board took the middle road on the inclusion of the Pledge of Allegiance at meetings, theoretically ending weeks of unrest at Town Board meetings.
The hubbub started in January when the board voted to remove the Pledge of Allegiance from its place at the beginning of each Town Board meeting, just after the call to order. Backlash from residents at the move during the subsequent few weeks led Town Supervisor Beth McGee to schedule a special meeting to discuss the issue.
Last night, she managed to bring a resolution to the issue as well: McGee wrote a bill that states that official Town Board agendas will include a note attached to the Privilege of the Floor section that will invite people of the public to say the Pledge of Allegiance "if they so choose." The pledge will not have its own slot on the agenda as it did previously. The recitation of the pledge will not take time away from people's three minute speaking time during privilege of the floor, which will be held just after the call to order.
The board voted 4-1 in favor of the move, with member Bob Lynch dissenting. Residents packed the Enfield Town Hall once again, with about 35 seated during the meeting.
A hallmark of a good compromise is that everyone leaves at least a little angry, and this one did not disappoint. The move did not satisfy some of the more hardline members of the audience, who felt the language wasn't strong enough; some wanted the board to restore the Pledge of Allegiance to its own spot on the agenda and additionally include a tenet that would force meeting attendees to stand and face the flag while the pledge is recited. Lynch had introduced his own resolution that would have basically done this (requesting "respectful reverence" from attendees), though it did also provide people with the option to "decline participation." His resolution was read and received applause from the audience, but was promptly tabled after that and eventually was defeated in favor of McGee's action.
Those who wanted the pledge reinstated had largely the same arguments as they had previously: they felt blindsided by the initial vote, which was held in early January, and that the board was catering to a minority opinion while ignoring the will of the majority. Their suggestions ranged from the accommodating (Tammy Elling offered to come to every Town Board meeting so that a member of the public could lead those who wanted to say the pledge) to the comedic (one person argued that the Pledge of Allegiance should be placed above the Call to Order, the traditional start of the meeting, for maximum respect).
"I expect the board to be forthcoming and honest and I believe that you acted on terms that weren't really voted for," Herb Messer said. He also lamented the "arrogance" of the board and said several times that the decision would be "remembered next election."
Throughout the meeting, the Messers and other members of the public called on certain members of the board to resign if they didn't want to say the pledge.
"It's my opinion that anyone who can't say the Pledge of Allegiance to the United States of America should not be in a leadership position in a town, a state, or this country," Barb Messer said.
"If I don't get re-elected, it's not going to break my heart over this issue," McGee said at one point during the discourse.
Another sentiment that was repeated, although not quite based in reality, was that members of the public felt that their right to say the pledge was being revoked. This was never actually true, as the Pledge of Allegiance had been frequently said during the interim meetings of the Town Board since the first vote in January, but it certainly provoked some of the most passionate comments from the public during the meeting. At the invitation of McGee, the crowd and board all stood and said the Pledge of Allegiance after the hour or so of public comment had concluded and before the board began its discussion.
The meeting threatened to spin out of control during a few moments. There were plenty of accusations directed at the board that they were being unpatriotic or disrespectful by removing the pledge. McGee handled most of the back-and-forths with audience members, though the discussion likely would have carried on for hours more had she not stopped so the board could move to the voting procedure. During one of the meeting's more contentious moments, McGee accused Lynch of a misinformation campaign around the pledge issue, saying he had been stoking the flames of those who wanted the pledge restored. Lynch did not respond.
The board remained largely unswayed, though, despite the flood of comments. McGee and board member Stephanie Redmond, who first broached the topic in January due to her religious beliefs, were steadfast throughout the meeting. Mimi Mehaffey and Virginia Bryant were similarly unchanged, though Mehaffey was more vocal during the meeting and reiterated several times that she felt including the pledge on the agenda was a form of coercion by the board to make attendees say the pledge, which she found uncomfortable. She also said that under the new rules, the pledge would be said at the behest of the public during each meeting instead of being built into the agenda, which would make it more meaningful because it would be an active choice every time instead of a passive routine. Lynch's position also stayed steadily in favor of reinstating the pledge.