Economic Development meetings to begin with Pledge of Allegiance after 5-2 vote

TRUMBULL — The Economic and Community Development Commission will take on an air of formality at its next meeting after it voted 5-2 to recite the Pledge of Allegiance beginning in February.

The commission had never said the pledge before meetings, said Economic Development Director Rina Bakalar. The pledge generally was reserved for legislative bodies. Advisory groups like the commission normally don’t say it, she said.

Commissioner Jeanne Gibbs said the recitation lent an air of formality to proceedings similar to the beginning of a school day.

“That’s how we begin PTA meetings,” she said. “We start school by standing and saying the pledge. It just frames (the proceedings) in a different way than if you don’t.”

Marshall Marcus, one of two commissioners to vote against the recitation at the Jan. 7 meeting, along with Shelby LeVino, said he did not see the need for it.

“At the risk of sounding un-American, I’m not in favor,” he said. “I just find politicians all wear their (American Flag) lapel pins, and many acting completely un-American.”

Marcus said beginning meetings with a salute and an allegiance oath “at times can smack of fascism.”

If the commission did vote to recite the pledge, he said he would prefer the pre-1954 pledge that was recited before the addition of the words “under God.”

Marcus’s comments were the most pointed of the 10-minute discussion. Most of the other commissioners expressed support, or at least a lack of opposition.

“I tend to think that maybe it’s not a bad thing,” said Evelyn Zamary.

Eve McGrath, who also voted in favor, responded to a comment about meeting length by pointing out that reciting the 31-word pledge would not take up much time.

“That’s not an appropriate reason not to do it,” she said.

The Pledge of Allegiance has a long and occasionally controversial history with some Connecticut incidents.

According to the website, the pledge was written in 1892 by socialist minister Francis Bellamy and published in The Youth’s Companion in September of that year. In its original form it read:

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

It has since been changed twice, first in 1923 when the words “my flag” were replaced with “the Flag of the United States of America.”

In 1954 Congress voted to add the words “under God” to differentiate the United States from the communist regimes of the time.

Congress first began a session with the pledge in 1988, after it became a campaign issue when Republican presidential candidate George H.W. Bush criticized Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis, who had as Massachusetts governor vetoed a bill to make the pledge mandatory in state schools 11 years earlier.

Rep. John Rowland of Connecticut, the future governor, introduced a privileged resolution to mandate that Congress open each session with the pledge. After heated debate, the resolution was ruled out of order since it would have changed the House rules. The House formally added the pledge to its rules in 1995.

Arguments over the pledge still arise. Last year, the Waterbury school system settled a First Amendment lawsuit with a student who claimed to have been shamed into standing for the pledge. The system affirmed that students did not have to stand for the pledge.

In 2018, gubernatorial candidate and former Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst, in an interview on Fox and Friends, demanded the resignation of Haddam selectwoman Melissa Schlag for kneeling during the pledge.

“You know one of the things the flag stands for, it stands for our freedom,” Herbst said. “It stands for democracy. It stands for the fundamental ideal that we can have differences of opinion.”

Schlag in return called Herbst’s demand she resign “disgusting” and “a ridiculous political ploy.”

Back in Trumbull, Ralph Sather, the commission chairman, voted in favor of the pledge but took pains to make sure the practice did not divide the commission.

“We can vote to stop if it divides the group,” he said. “It’s not tantamount to the work we’re doing.”

In any case, members who would prefer not to recite the pledge can always opt not to, Bakalar said.

“If folks don’t want to participate, they don’t have to,” she said.