Bob’s former Home Page Essay; Feb. 15 – March 20, 2020
To our Readers; to my Constituents:
These recent weeks on this website, one Town-wide topic has been conspicuous by its absence. I’ve made next-to-no mention of our Enfield Town Board’s January 8th decision to delete the Pledge of Allegiance from the agendas of Town Board meetings.
This omission was not inadvertent. I intended it. For starters, as the lone Town Board member to dissent in our controversial decision, I saw myself as too heavily engaged to render an unbiased opinion. You could read the story elsewhere, and most of you probably did. I’m told it even made CNN.
But equally important, I sought to employ what Thomas Jefferson once referenced as the saucer that cools the hot coffee of overheated controversy. Best we all sit back for a while; count to ten—maybe 20—and then determine what’s the best course of action for us all… and for Enfield.
It’s been more than a month. I should remain silent only so long. The continued omission, or alternately, the reinstatement of the Pledge remains our Town’s prime issue of disagreement. But our Supervisor has decided we need to talk it out; to have an intelligent, reasoned, and rational discussion. I support her to that end. And to me, every opinion stands welcome. No one should refrain from speaking up. I, for one, will listen equally attentively to all points of view.
Issues of patriotism and faith often enjoy little middle ground, so true compromise here may elude us. But at least, let us proceed to resolve this issue with the utmost civility and mutual respect.
I’ll start with just the facts: The following is my attempt to report objectively on our February 12th Town Board meeting, one in which many passionate opinions were aired on the Pledge’s future. We’ll proceed from there.
Public Pushback Prompts Promise to Ponder Pledge Policy
Enfield Board set to reexamine Oath’s deletion February 26th
by Robert Lynch, February 15, 2020
“Can a meeting run without it? Sure. Should it? My answer is ‘No’”
Hines Road resident Tammy Alling’s plea joined that of more than a half-dozen of her neighbors Wednesday (Feb. 12th) as they packed the Enfield Town Board’s monthly meeting to urge it restore the Pledge of Allegiance to its routine spot at the start of every meeting.
In public comments, including in messages emailed Town Board members, residents have called for the Board to reverse its decision taken January 8th when it organized meetings for the year by deleting the Pledge’s recitation. The majority responded to some members’ concerns that the patriotic oath’s reference to “under God” violates the Separation of Church and State. The nearly unanimous vote drew widespread press coverage, including an unconfirmed report that CNN had aired the Board’s recorded discussions.
In responding to comments Wednesday, Supervisor Beth McGee set a special Board meeting for Wednesday February 26th to discuss the Pledge’s potential restoration along with other Town business. The meeting’s posted online agenda lists “Pledge of Allegiance Issue” as the stated topic. Councilperson Robert Lynch (this writer), the only member to vote against the January deletion, has introduced a Resolution that would return the Pledge to its prior status.
“People can make mistakes,” Lynch told the Board at the close of Wednesday’s public comments. “But Town Boards can make mistakes too. And I think what I heard tonight from the comments that have been expressed is that we made a mistake a month ago.”
Lynch acknowledged that he hadn’t joined his colleagues in January when they stripped the Pledge from meetings, then adding, “But maybe I didn’t defend it enough.”
Lynch’s proposed Resolution would restore the Pledge of Allegiance to all Town Board meetings, though make clear that “neither the meeting’s presiding officer, nor any member of this Board, shall coerce, pressure, or compel any Board member or meeting attendee to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, or any portion thereof….” The Resolution would request that all able-bodied attendees stand during the recitation “to demonstrate proper respect” for those who choose to recite the oath.
Some attendees Wednesday urged the Board to act immediately. But Supervisor McGee begged off action until Councilperson Mimi Mehaffey returns from overseas travel. “I’m not interested in having a full conversation without a full Board,” McGee stated.
Twice during their public comments Wednesday, attendees recited the Pledge themselves, inviting others, including Board members, to join them. Some at the head table rose and recited the Pledge. Others remained seated.
Public comments Wednesday often pulled at patriotic heartstrings, with commenters, many of them older residents, some of them veterans, citing the Pledge of Allegiance as an affirmation of American ideals.
“That’s not just a fabric hanging there,” said Enfield Center’s Helen Hetherington, pointing to the flag draped behind the meeting table. “It represents our military; what they’ve done to give us freedom.”
Bev Rollins, wife of the
Highway Superintendent, said she felt both “shocked” and “insulted” by the
Board’s January action, viewing it as an attempt toward inclusion that
“You’ve insulted our culture; you’ve insulted the way we live,” Rollins said. “If this had been an open discussion before the election, it would have been much better because we could have had a choice on this.”
Former Board member and veteran Herb Masser also faulted the majority for deleting the Pledge without public comment and warned that members who stand their ground do so at their own peril.
“I used to sit on this Board,” Masser recalled, “and I kept in mind that I represented the people. We (the constituents) don’t work for you. You work for us…. And if you vote the Pledge down again, we’re going to keep that in mind the next election.”
Theresa Guler, an outspoken critic of the now-defunct Black Oak Wind Farm project, took her turn before the Board to equate current divisions over the Pledge with what she termed “the whole Black Oak thing.”
“It really separated the community, and it put people in a negative environment. And it’s really sad sitting here and watching all the people get upset and bashin’ this and that, and the community should be as one. We should be supporting each other, and we should be lifting each other up.”
Tompkins County Legislator David McKenna, during his remarks to brief the Town Board on county business, rendered his opinion on the Pledge as well.
“My two cents on the flag,” said McKenna, “I think we should put it back in.”
McGee then reminded the legislator that only the Pledge is gone from meeting order, not the flag itself.
Only one attendee supported the Board’s January action. Julie Schroeder maintained it was “appropriate” for the Board to delete the Pledge, insisting it would have been far more divisive to have removed only the “under God” reference. And the Bostwick Road resident observed that, to her, inclusion of the Deity’s reference could be “off-putting to people who don’t potentially believe in ‘The God,’ no matter what their spiritual dedication or beliefs are.”
Newly-elected Councilperson Stephanie Redmond initiated the January action to delete the Pledge. In his remarks, Councilperson Lynch urged constituents not to take out their frustration upon his colleague, but rather on the Board collectively.
“I want to say that I believe fully in her,” Lynch said, without referencing Redmond by name. “She was a woman of principle, who stood on principle. She divides the Separation of Church and State at a little different place than I do. We should be able to agree to disagree.”
Update: The Ithaca Times on February 20th, ran an extended Front Page story also addressing our Pledge of Allegiance debate. Read it at https://www.ithaca.com/news/ithaca/to-pledge-or-not/article_1423a328-5381-11ea-b619-1fb40de471fd.html?fbclid=IwAR1IEWR5xzY_X-HEIRpM9TpIIC7Ei-f7HMIQjvHJ7x-rSiT5B2IkJu7fukA
Now, friends, here is the text of the Reinstatement Resolution I’ve requested the Town Board consider February 26th:
WHEREAS, the Enfield Town Board has, for many years, led its meetings by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, and;
WHEREAS, Enfield residents attending those meetings have joined Town Board members in reciting that Pledge as a means of recognizing their patriotic respect for this nation, its Constitution and laws, as well as the liberties and freedoms which permit the Enfield Town Board to convene openly, debate thoroughly, and decide conscientiously this community’s issues through the practice of Representative Democracy, and;
WHEREAS, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” and;
WHEREAS, the Enfield Town Board, on January 8, 2020, amended its “order for conducting business” at Town Board meetings by deleting recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, the Board’s action in response to some members’ concerns that reference to “God” within the Pledge may violate the prohibitions enshrined in the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause as well as the time-honored Separation of Church and State, and;
WHEREAS, subsequent to the referenced Town Board decision, many Enfield residents have come forth and urged this Board to reconsider its action, and;
WHEREAS, this Town Board has chosen to acknowledge those concerns, therefore, be it
RESOLVED, that the Enfield Town Board hereby reinstates the Pledge of Allegiance to its customary place within the Outline for both regular and special Town Board meetings, and;
RESOLVED, further, that to demonstrate proper respect to those who choose to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, the meeting’s presiding officer will, hereinafter, at the appropriate time, request all Board members and meeting attendees who are able to stand and face the flag in respectful reverence, and to designate a Board member to lead in that Pledge, and;
RESOLVED, further, that in full recognition of every person’s right to exercise his or her constitutional prerogatives freely and to decline participation based on his or her political, ethical, or religious beliefs, or for any reason whatsoever, neither the meeting’s presiding officer, nor any member of this Board, shall coerce, pressure, or compel any Board member or meeting attendee to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, or any portion thereof, and;
RESOLVED, further, that this Resolution, and the provisions contained herein, shall take effect immediately.
That’s the story. There’s my Resolution. Now, let’s talk it out… for the good of us, and of our Town.