On June 6th, Eugene City Councilor Mike Clark proposed a relatively simple idea to the Council: schoolchildren are required to say the Pledge of Allegiance every day in class, so the Eugene City Council should be required to say it at the start of its meetings, too.
What ensued was a month of debate, controversy and notoriety, the likes of which most Eugenians were not prepared for.
Clark’s initial mention of the proposal, which was brought to the council officially on June 20, was met with minor support, but mostly skepticism from his fellow Councilors. The proposal would allow for the recitation of the Pledge at the Council’s regular meetings, where the eight councilmen could recite if they chose, and the audience would have an option to join in if they were so inclined. But those in attendance accused Clark of political posturing.
Clark, who represents north-central Eugene on the council, may run for the North Eugene seat on the Lane County Board of Commissioners next year, [Lane Community College Political Science Professor Steve] Candee said.
“That’s the beauty of what Mike is proposing,” Candee said. “Nobody wants to be against the American flag and apple pie.”
“My suspicion is that (Clark’s pledge idea) is more political than legislative or deliberative,” he said.
The next week, when the idea again came before the council, there were worries about the implications of a mandatory pledge — worries that were stated by Mayor Kitty Piercy. She believed that the pledge would be a divisive measure, making those who chose not to recite seem as though they were not patriotic. So she proposed a compromise.
[Piercy], along with Zelenka, suggested the council recite the pledge at the five meetings each year.
Piercy said she recalled a Lane County Board of Commissioners meeting last year where “an angry crowd” of residents upset with proposed land use regulations along the McKenzie River “took over the meeting and forced the (saying of the) Pledge of Allegiance.”
At last week’s council meeting, Piercy said, a resident “demanded that every patriotic person stand up and take the pledge. And the implication was clear that not saying it was supposed to mean one did not honor our country and our troops.
“We do not have a history of saying the pledge on our City Council,” Piercy said. “But we have all given our oath of office and, in doing so, our allegiance to this nation, state and city.”
And even at the next meeting, most Councilors seemed skeptical. Councilor George Brown even suggested to Clark that he should say the Pledge in ceremony in the privacy of his own home. Clark seemed disappointed.
“In my heart, I would like to pass my originally intended motion,” he said. “But I recognize that a majority of the council doesn’t agree with me. I also recognize that compromising will likely bring a majority of councilors to agreement.
“I think it’s a good first step toward us being willing to value those in our community who would like to celebrate more traditional things.”
The compromise that Mayor Piercy proposed at the June 13th meeting eventually made its way into law last week, passing by a vote of 6-2. The Pledge will be said at the four meetings closest to “patriotic holidays of Memorial Day, Veterans Day, Flag Day and the Fourth of July.”
But that’s not even the interesting part.
In hearing about the story, Fox News sent a crew down from Seattle to cover the story. And in their coverage, the meeting was characterized completely differently. From the Register-Guard:
By midafternoon, more than 200 e-mails and 140 phone calls had been received at City Hall. Such a response to a City Council decision in such a short period of time is unusual.
City spokeswoman Jan Bohman said 90 percent of the e-mails and 99 percent of the phone calls were from residents outside Oregon.
Bohman said many of the comments were generated by the Fox News reports, which she called misleading.
“We are hearing from people who think we are banning the saying of the Pledge of Allegiance,” Bohman said. “That’s not accurate or even close to the truth.”
To be fair, Fox’s coverage leaves much to be desired.
Jordan Sekulow, director of policy and international operations for the American Center for Law and Justice, sees the Eugene case as political correctness trumping American values.
“It vindicates all of us who say our Judeo-Christian heritage is under attack,” Sekulow says, “sometimes it’s in the courts, sometimes it’s elected officials and sometimes it’s the media.”
In Eugene, the opposition was less about religion than anti-establishment.
Resident Anita Sullivan summed up a common viewpoint: “So you say I pledge allegiance and right there I don’t care for that language,” Sullivan says. “It sort of means loyalty to your country; well, I feel loyalty to the entire world.”
What did the vote accomplish, really? And what would the harm have been in allowing those who wish to pledge allegiance to the United States of America that right at the beginning of a public, government meeting? One of the main oppositions to saying the Pledge was that Councilors already swore an oath to uphold the Constitution when they took office, as the Register Guard notes:
In the oath of office outlined in the city charter, elected officials “solemnly swear” to support the U.S. and state constitutions and to faithfully perform the duties of their office to the best of their ability. They have the option to conclude the oath with the words “so help me God” or to affirm their intentions “under the pains and penalties of perjury.”
Another is that saying the Pledge of Allegiance at meetings could be a divisive force — potentially, those who choose not to recite it could be deemed anti-American or some other such nonsense. This was Mayor Piercy’s main opposition, and a sentiment that seemed to echo throughout both the Council and the community.
By allowing Councilors and those attending City Council meetings the option to say the Pledge of Allegiance at a public meeting in which government employees are conducting official business would serve to both remind those in attendance and decision-makers why the processes in which we make community decisions are in place (hey, thanks for democracy, America) as well as — and this is arguably a more important point — allow legislators the choice to express their freedom of speech in a forum that is supposed to protect that right for the rest of the community (among doing other things, of course).
In any community with one predominant viewpoint, regardless of attempts from individuals, a pervading idea is generally more highly respected than the ideas of the minority. The best decisions come from discussion of differing viewpoints, from individuals feeling empowered and inspired to express their opinions — even if that opinion is love of flag and love of country.
For example, for the first time since 1911, Oregon actually passed a redistricting bill that was signed by Governor Kitzhaber without major revisions or the need for the task to be handed to the Secretary of State. The bipartisan bill passed overwhelmingly in both the Oregon House and Senate — comprised of 30 Democrats and 30 Republicans, and 16 Democrats and 14 Republicans, respectively.
The conversations that occurred in the creation of what had the potential to be a highly political action actually helped to create a solution that has the ability to benefit all Oregonians. Being able to express opinions and share different beliefs can be beneficial to a society. Cities are birthplaces of innovation precisely for that reason — having your viewpoints challenged is inspiring.
The City of Eugene would do well to keep this in mind when deciding how to organize their meeting proceedings. A city that claims to be so tolerant and accepting of new ideas should probably start being tolerant and accepting of the old ones, too.