WINDSOR, Vt. — The Windsor Selectboard decided Tuesday to stop reciting the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of its meetings and instead replace that time with a moment of silence.
The board made the decision by a vote of 3-2 as part of a follow-up to a conversation held at the board’s last meeting on June 30. Selectperson Amanda Smith raised a grievance last month about the tradition, saying the Pledge of Allegiance, both historically and in concept, falls contrary to America’s principles surrounding liberty and freedom and alienates many citizens who are uncomfortable taking the oath.
“It is important for this board to represent its values,” Smith said Tuesday night. “We have the ability to make change.”
The Pledge of Allegiance has a curious and sometimes controversial history. The author Francis Bellamy, a socialist minister who penned the piece in August of 1892, originally wrote it to be applicable to any country. During the 20th century, American officials evolved the piece into a loyalty oath, adding the words “the Flag of the United States of America” in 1923 and “under God” in 1954. The latter addition was encouraged by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who wanted the Pledge of Allegiance to show greater distinction between America’s culture and communism.
Smith said the act of reciting a pledge to prove loyalty contradicts American values such as liberty and free speech. Additionally, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance not only alienates atheists — because of the aforementioned addition of “under God” in the 1950s — but some religious groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who prescribe to biblical passages that forbid taking an oath to another entity besides God.
Windsor Selectboard Vice Chair James Reed and Selectperson Christopher Goulet joined Smith in support of discontinuing the pledge.
“It is simply unAmerican to compel someone to say or do some sort of action… that may or may not represent their values,” Goulet said.
Windsor Selectboard Chair Heather Prebish and Selectperson Paul Belaski voted against the measure.
Belaski explained that because of the novel coronavirus pandemic the current selectboard has been holding its meetings remotely and has not been starting meetings with the Pledge of Allegiance. Belaski said the question should wait until the board resumes in-person meetings, which may be a new board of selectmen by that point.
The other selectmen acknowledged that replacing the Pledge of Allegiance may only apply to the current board, as future boards can propose their own preferences.
The majority of public comments at the meeting were in favor of the change, as had been the case the previous month.
Windsor resident Rachael Bogart, an educator, said that while reciting the Pledge of Allegiance is optional, the tradition puts pressure on the individuals who opt not to participate. Additionally, American culture has changed considerably since 1993, when the Windsor Selectboard initially adopted the pledge as its opening tradition.
Some residents opposed the change.
“Why can’t you say the pledge and whoever doesn’t want to say the pledge stands in silence?” asked Justin Ciccarelli, a former selectman. “I think that’s the best of both worlds.”
Ciccarelli pointed out that the town has “a rich history of veterans” who believe the Pledge of Allegiance is an important tradition.
Smith, whose partner is a disabled veteran, said she holds veterans in the highest regard, though not all veterans have a positive view about the pledge.
Michael McNaughton, a former selectboard member, cautioned the body about measuring the public consensus by the residents who participate in the public meetings, especially when that access requires internet connectivity.
McNaughton also recommended the formation of committees to study these issues, rather than the selectboard making community decisions on its own.
The board decided to replace the pledge’s recitation with a one-minute moment of silence. Reed said he felt the board needed some formal opening to lead into the meeting,
Vermont is only one of four states that does not require schools or public meetings to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
The Windsor Selectboard is not alone in holding such discussions on this topic.
The Hartford Selectboard also reserved some time to deliberate the merits of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in a meeting earlier this month. Similar to Windsor, the selectboard also talked about the pledge during their Tuesday meeting but alternatively decided to continue the tradition of reciting the pledge before its meetings.
Committee will study the future of Jacob Street
In a separate discussion, the Windsor Selectboard directed Town Manager Tom Marsh to organize an ad-hoc committee to study whether to rename Jacob Street, a public roadway named after historical figure Stephen Jacobs, who had been a slave owner.
A bill of sale from 1783 shows that Jacobs, who was one of Vermont’s first Supreme Court justices, had purchased Dinah Mason, a Black woman, from a Charlestown man named Jotham White. Jacob had also violated Vermont law, as slavery was illegal in the state at the time.
Like the pledge discussion, the selectboard continued the discourse from the previous month.
The board decided that a committee study was the best course forward to sufficiently gather public opinion and research the issue comprehensively, including the historical facts, options and processes to implement an action.