Pledge sparks aldermanic debate

The Board of Aldermen is currently debating whether to include a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of board meetings.
The Board of Aldermen is currently debating whether to include a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of board meetings. Photo by Sari Levy.

Aldermen debated a piece of legislation at City Hall on Monday that would make the Pledge of Allegiance a regular part of their meetings.

Proposed by former alderman Nancy Ahern, the agenda item would amend the rules of the board to include the recitation of the pledge at the start of each full board meeting. Five people testified in favor of the item at the Monday Aldermanic Affairs committee meeting, but one resident recommended that the proposal be amended to clarify that aldermen could choose to opt out of the pledge. The committee concluded it did not have enough information to vote and tabled the item.

Ahern said she got the idea from Richter Elser ’81, the Republican town chair of New Haven. Elser said that he was part of an email thread in September that was sent to both Democratic and Republican town chairmen. Through the email thread, he realized that only some towns recited the pledge at the beginning of their meetings.

“There’s no real consistency across towns. There are some who do it and some who don’t, and it just seems to be haphazard,” Elser said. “The pledge is, at a very simple level, an affirmation that the work you do as a legislative body is part of a larger structure of government that works best when people are participating.”

Ahern, who said the proposal makes a “lot of sense” to her, provided a short history of the Pledge of Allegiance to the committee, including the year it was written and the changes it has undergone. When asked by Ward 8 alderman Michael Smart whether she considered this idea during her tenure as alderman, she said it simply had not occurred to her.

But New Haven resident Darryl Brackeen Jr. wanted to make sure that the item would allow for aldermen to opt out and choose not to recite the pledge, arguing that they should have that option if reciting the pledge would be inconsistent with their religious beliefs.

Ward 13 alderman Brenda Jones-Barnes, however, did not find his argument convincing.

“It’s amazing to me that we’re in 2012 and we have to have a discussion on whether people who are elected by other people should be reciting the Pledge of Allegiance,” she said. “We have young people that have no idea what it means to pledge their allegiance to anything and don’t know what it means to abide by rules. Can we all just get along and recite the Pledge of Allegiance?”

During discussion, the aldermen questioned whether the board had the power to mandate that aldermen recite the Pledge of Allegiance. They raised the question of what the Supreme Court precedent was and agreed that they would need more information about previous court cases in order to vote on the agenda item.

Smart said he wanted more research done regarding why this item had not been proposed before, and Ward 12 alderman Mark Stopa said that while he was in favor of what seemed like a “very simple and very patriotic” proposal, he wanted the committee to research the issue fully, including Supreme Court precedent, so that the board would not “run into issues” in the future.

Based on this perceived lack of information, the committee decided to table the proposal, meaning they will vote on whether to recommend the item to the full Board of Aldermen at a later date. Stopa said that the committee will have to be very careful about the phrasing of the item.

The original public hearing for the Pledge of Allegiance proposal was scheduled for Oct. 29 but was pushed to Monday because of Hurricane Sandy.

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