Board of Aldermen considers Pledge requirement

The Aldermanic Affairs Committee discussed whether they would recite the Pledge of Allegiance at their meetings.
The Aldermanic Affairs Committee discussed whether they would recite the Pledge of Allegiance at their meetings. Photo by Jennifer Cheung.

Following heated debate last November on whether or not the Board of Aldermen should be required to recite the Pledge of Allegiance at each full board meeting — and the ultimate decision to table the issue — the board’s Aldermanic Affairs Committee reintroduced the topic at their monthly meeting Monday night.

Five members of the Aldermanic Affairs Committee discussed whether it would be a violation of religious freedom to require the board to recite the pledge. The group decided to leave to withdraw without prejudice, meaning that the full Board of Aldermen will vote on the proposal at their Feb. 19 meeting.

Currently, full board meetings open with “divine guidance,” in which a member of the board offers a prayer or reading. The committee members agreed at Monday’s meeting that board members can choose to lead others in the Pledge of Allegiance when it is their turn to offer “divine guidance,” and that requiring the pledge was unnecessary and potentially restrictive in terms of religious freedom.

“I think that for folks to be required to have to stand up and recite the Pledge of Allegiance is moving a little too far,” said Ward 8 Alderman Michael Smart.

The proposal to require a recitation of the pledge was originally proposed by former Alderman Nancy Ahern, who asked that the pledge occur before divine guidance.

Ahern said she got the idea from Richter Elser ’81, who is the Republican town chair of New Haven. At November’s meeting, she said that she did not propose the idea when she was alderman because it had not occurred to her.

“My problem would be for those people who want to opt out of doing it,” Ward 26 Alderman Sergio Rodriguez said. “How are they looked at for opting out of it if it’s something that’s supposed to be standard procedure?”

Ward 27 Alderman Angela Russell said that she believed divine guidance was originally instituted as a compromise to address these types of situations: It enabled board members to have flexibility with what they said at the beginning of the meeting.

Russell added that if people “were so big on separation of church and state,” that they would continue to allow board members to choose their form of expression through divine guidance.

Ward 12 Alderman Mark Stopa agreed with allowing people to recite the pledge, and said that it should be left as an option.

“I support saying the pledge: It’s something you do at baseball games and football games, and here we’re acting as a legislative branch of government, and if someone wants to do it, then they should be allowed to do it,” Stopa said. “It’ll probably take less than a minute to say.”

At last November’s meeting, five people testified in favor of the item.

Correction: Jan. 29 

A previous version of this article mistakenly stated that the full Board will vote on the Pledge of Allegiance proposal at its next meeting, when in fact it will vote on the proposal at its Feb. 19 meeting. 

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