Eugene, Ore., slammed for Pledge of Allegiance compromise

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Eugene, Ore., City Council took fire from across the country this week after voting June 27 to recite the Pledge of Allegiance at four meetings a year.

The Associated Press reported that “hundreds” of hostile calls and e-mails flooded the switchboard. City spokeswoman Jan Bohman told The Register-Guard newspaper that 90% of the reaction came from out of state, apparently spurred by a Fox News report that the council had voted 5-2 “to resist saying the pledge on a regular basis,” The Register-Guard said.

Bohman and other city officials were at pains to say the Fox report had mischaracterized the council’s vote. Whether that’s true or not depends on how you look at it.

The council has not been reciting the pledge at all. City Councilor Mike Clark proposed that the members recite it at all of the council’s regular Monday meetings. So the vote to restrict the pledge to four meetings, close to patriotic holidays, was a compromise. Clark told the newspaper he was happy with it, but said he was not happy with the profanities and boycott threats that came Eugene’s way.

The Pledge of Allegiance continues to be a First Amendment lightning rod. The Register-Guard had this to say about opposition to Clark’s proposal: “Liberal councilors, such as Alan Zelenka and George Brown, and Mayor Kitty Piercy said the pledge could be considered a divisive ritual.”

Fox News also reported that Piercy called the pledge divisive. “If there’s one thing the flag stands for,” Piercy said according to a story on Fox’s website, “it’s that people don’t have to be compelled to say the Pledge of Allegiance or anything else.”

It was not clear what other officials considered divisive, but it’s pretty sad when anyone views our Pledge of Allegiance that way. That’s your right, of course. But if you have no allegiance “to the flag, or to the Republic for which it stands,” then why exactly would you run for office in a country you don’t support?

But maybe the objection is to the “one Nation, under God” part of the pledge. A lot of people don’t believe in God and don’t want to be forced to say they do. That’s a perfectly legitimate objection.

There are free-speech solutions for all this. In one respect, a solution has already been embraced: The councilors voted to say the pledge at a limited number of meetings. Those who don’t like that compromise have the free-speech right to remain silent during the recitation, if they feel that expressing allegiance to the country is too divisive. Or they could leave out the words “under God” when they recite the pledge.

After all, it’s a free country. That’s the pledge embodied in the First Amendment.

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