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Paige Kieffer

The Pledge of Allegiance once again became a subject of controversy and national discussion after the St. Louis Park City Council voted to remove it from council meetings June 17. The council voted July 15 to bring it back.

When the council originally voted 5-0 remove the pledge, Council Member Tim Brausen said, “We concluded that in order to create a more welcoming environment to a diverse community, we’re going to forgo saying the Pledge of Allegiance before every meeting.”

Brausen said the Pledge of Allegiance should still be used though when Boy Scouts visited meetings or during other special occasions.

“Not everyone who does business with the city or has a conversation is a citizen,” Council Member Anne Mavity added. “They certainly don’t need to come into city council chambers and pledge their allegiance to our country in order to tell us what their input is about a sidewalk in front of their home.”

The City Council’s decision sparked a national uproar that caught the attention of President Donald Trump, who tweeted that the pledge was “under siege” in St. Louis Park.

In the weeks after St. Louis Park City Council made its decision, the city saw an onslaught of protests at meetings, mainly from conservative voters who held up American flags or wore flag-related attire, and some donned vests spelling “Trump” and red “Make America Great Again” campaign hats.

Under pressure, the St. Louis Park City Council eventually voted unanimously to reinstate the pledge.

I’ve personally covered city council, school board and state meetings for the last five years. Most of these meetings started with the Pledge of Allegiance, while a few did not.

The city councils and school boards we cover in Anoka County all recite the Pledge of Allegiance prior to regular meetings.

I’ve always welcomed the opportunity to recite the pledge. It serves as a reminder of what it means to be an American, and it celebrates the freedoms we have and the freedoms we strive for. To me there is no more fitting place to do this than at a government meeting where we’re actively celebrating our democratic republic.

While I see the Pledge of Allegiance as something that unites us Americans, it ultimately doesn’t define us as patriots.

The pledge was written in 1892 by the socialist Baptist minister Francis Bellamy.

It originally read, “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands; one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

The pledge was officially adopted by Congress in 1942, and has since been a presence at many government meetings.

In 1954 during the Cold War, President Dwight D. Eisenhower encouraged Congress to add the words “under God” to the pledge as a distinction from godless Communism.

The words “under God” have been opposed numerous times since the new version of the pledge was adopted.

A few St. Louis Park City Council members said the pledge should be removed from the agenda strictly for the phrase “under God,” rather than moving to use a version of the pledge without it.

Despite the controversy around it, I believe the pledge celebrates the possibilities our country gives us, and it reminds us of the ultimate goal we strive for, “liberty and justice for all,” even though we haven’t reached that goal yet.

But while it’s appropriate to say the pledge at government meetings, we should remember it’s a choice, and no one should ever be shamed or forced into reciting it. Nor should the pledge ultimately define how “American” we are. If we believe in what the pledge stands for, then we should respect everyone’s First Amendment right to stay silent, sit, kneel or even omit the phrase “under God.”

No matter if people choose to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance or not, we should never be afraid to celebrate our freedoms and remind ourselves of our goals and responsibilities as Americans.

 

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