St. Louis Park City Council members have pledged allegiance to the American flag many times over the years but voted to no longer do so on a regular basis.
The council began its June 17 meeting with the Pledge of Allegiance but by the end of the meeting had voted 5-0 to remove the pledge from its regular meeting agenda. The council simultaneously voted to change its regular meeting time to 6:30 p.m. on the first and third Mondays of a month from 7:30 p.m.
The changes had been on the consent agenda, in which a series of items are approved together without discussion. Councilmember Tim Brausen requested a vote directly on the changes for the sake of transparency, he said.
Brausen mainly highlighted the time change, which he said “will give schoolchildren, students and others an opportunity to get here and not have to stick around until our meetings sometimes end at 10 p.m. We think and we hope it’ll make it more accessible for other people in our community.”
He added that the council had discussed the Pledge of Allegiance during a study session about revising the council’s rules of procedure.
“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, although if we have an appropriate opportunity – if we have Boy Scout color guards or others in attendance or if it’s a special occasion, we will consider using the Pledge of Allegiance before the meetings.”
No other council members spoke before the vote, but Councilmember Anne Mavity later acknowledged she had called for the change.
“It was part of our regular updates to how we’re conducting our meetings,” she said in an interview. “I had brought it up recently as we were talking about updating our meeting protocols.”
Some cities in the area recite the pledge while others do not, she said. For example, the St. Paul City Council does say the pledge before meetings while the Minneapolis City Council does not.
“It doesn’t make one more patriotic than the other,” Mavity said. “It’s just a note in how the agenda is formulated each week. Repetition every week of the Pledge of Allegiance I don’t believe makes us more patriotic. I think actions count more than words.”
She noted that she has dedicated time in her professional and personal lives to advancing democratic principles, including working for four years in Russia with the United States Agency for International Development to improve democracy after the end of the Soviet Union.
After the change prompted a backlash, Mavity said, “This clearly has touched a pulse for residents and beyond, and I think it’s notable that if you look at our long history in the United States and frankly the history of countries elsewhere, in the moments where there’s more distrust of each other or of government is when loyalty oaths or pledges have seemed more significant.”
She referenced McCarthyism, in which then Sen. Joseph McCarthy accused Americans of sympathizing with the Communist Party, and the “Soviet menace” relating to “godless Communists” that prompted the addition of the words “under God” to the pledge.
“Even in the Civil War, these kinds of oaths and pledges became more significant,” Mavity said. “I think the fact this has touched a chord with folks is a reflection that we are at a point of polarization.”
The work that the city council is doing to promote a climate action plan, affordable housing, improved public safety and clean water demonstrate what democracy is all about, she asserted.
“We want to increase participation by every member of our community in every possible way, and pledging allegiance to the United States repeatedly week after week does not make us more patriotic and should not be any kind of requirement for people to tell me what their concerns are about affordable housing or our sidewalk plan or anything else in our community that’s impacting them, whoever they are,” Mavity said. “I believe that my actions personally and the actions of the city council have demonstrated our patriotism every single day that we’re advancing this work. That is much more important than what words get repeated weekly.”
Nevertheless, she said she has compassion for people who see the change as an attack on patriotism or believe it indicates a lack of loyalty to the United States.
“I want to be clear that this is not about an attack,” Mavity said. “This is about simply making our city walk the talk of patriotism, not just talk it.”
While she said she has taken oaths of office three times, Mavity said, “To me being an American, it’s about choice, it’s about freedom, it’s about allowing dissent and differences. It’s not about forcing pledges or oaths. It’s about enforcing the law, upholding the Constitution and ensuring that everyone feels fully welcome to participate.”
Brausen said he has received dozens of emails, phone calls and requests for interviews from local and national media about the change.
“The strong emotions that this action seems to have generated makes me wish we could get this level of interest in our efforts to address climate change and environmental sustainability, create a good transportation and transit system, address racial equity and access issues, preserve and create affordable housing, while providing good municipal services to our citizens,” he said in an email.
He has been responding to residents by saying that the change related to a council desire to streamline meetings.
“Some, myself included, felt that the rote repetition of the Pledge at our meetings did not further our desire to be a welcoming and inviting community to diverse groups in our City, nor did it serve any apparent purpose relating to our City’s business,” he wrote in his statement for residents. “We agreed that on certain occasions when desired we would recite the Pledge, but it did not need to be part of every meeting.”
Most of the sources of emotion about the change have been from outside of St. Louis Park, Brausen added.
“Please be assured that we didn’t take this action to be disrespectful to any person or any institution, nor because we lack patriotism,” he said. “We took this action from a desire to make the meetings comfortable and welcoming to the diverse populace we see at our meetings, and to focus us on the City’s business. Pledging fealty to our flag and our nation is not the purpose of our meetings; local governance is.
“People can disagree with the decision, but please respect our right to set the rules for our Council to operate.”
In a postscript, he added, “Our action does not stop anyone else from commencing their workday with the Pledge. Please feel free to do so.”
Mayor Jake Spano did not attend the meeting in which members voted to remove the pledge from their rules of procedure but said in an email, “To be clear, I would not have voted to get rid of the pledge.”
He said removing the pledge had not been a priority for him.
“First, I think there are more substantive things we should be working on to make our city more open and welcoming and secondly, I’ve always used the last six words, ‘with liberty and justice for all,’ as a reminder to me that not everyone in our community enjoys the benefits of those words and it’s my job to do everything I can to fix that,” Spano said. “That won’t change; I’ll just have to remind myself on my own.”
Councilmember Thom Miller, who also did not cast a vote during the 5-0 decision, sided with the council majority.
In a statement, he began by recognizing the importance of the pledge for some people.
“The Pledge of Allegiance is an honored, even sacred, ritual for many community members,” he said. “It brings memories and comfort, and is often likened to the ‘Star Spangled Banner,’ ‘America the Beautiful,’ and other patriotic expressions. I, too, have recited the pledge countless times. But I support the City Council’s action to eliminate the pledge from our public meetings for several reasons.”
He cited a “lack of relevancy” for council members and those attending council meetings to pledge allegiance to the American flag during a meeting “focused solely on the city of St. Louis Park.”
Miller wrote, “It’s a foregone conclusion that our city abides by federal and state laws, and works in tandem with other jurisdictions such as Hennepin County, the Met Council, and neighboring municipalities.”
The pledge could potentially be misinterpreted, he added.
“Created during a particularly xenophobic time in our country’s history, the pledge’s intent was to send a strong message to immigrants,” Miller wrote. “While for many of us, the pledge no longer takes on those connotations, today’s immigrants may view the pledge as a sign that St. Louis Park will cooperate with immigration enforcement officials. That is something the City does not do.”
He also objected to the pledge’s religious reference.
“Finally, the most important reason for me, personally, to eliminate the pledge is the phrase, ‘under God,’” Miller wrote. “This phrase was added during the 1950s Red Scare era. Because of the U.S. separation of church and state, the word God doesn’t belong in city proceedings – with the exception of discussing freedom to practice any faith.”
Council will reconsider decision July 8
Despite the views expressed, St. Louis Park Communications and Marketing Manager Jacque Smith released a statement June 28 that says, “After hearing many comments from the community, the St. Louis Park City Council is revisiting its decision to remove recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance from city council meetings.”
The council is scheduled to discuss the issue at its study session 6:30 p.m. Monday, July 8, at St. Louis Park City Hall, 5005 Minnetonka Blvd.
Elsewhere in the area, the St. Louis Park School Board typically does not say the Pledge of Allegiance during its meetings.