An Oregon town's City Council voted down a proposal to say the Pledge of Allegiance before every council meeting, but later passed a compromise that seemed to make no one happy.
It was supposed to be simple, but Councilman Mike Clark soon found out when you’re dealing with God and country, nothing in Eugene is easy.
Clark says all he wanted to do was unite the council and show his more conservative constituents that in this city where diversity is celebrated, their more traditional values also are important.
“It’s a little ironic to see those who have championed the idea of tolerance be less tolerant on this question,” Clark Said. Mayor Kitty Piercy called the Pledge of Allegiance divisive. “If there’s one thing the flag stands for,” Piercy says, “it’s that people don’t have to be compelled to say the Pledge of Allegiance or anything else.”
Under Clark’s proposal, saying the pledge would be voluntary not only for the public at the meetings, but the council members themselves.
Councilman George Brown voted against the compromise, saying the Pledge of Allegiance had no place at City Hall. “People can say it in their front yard or backyard,” Brown says. “It really doesn’t help move the city business forward. It does not unite us.”
Another pledge opponent, Councilwoman Betty Taylor compared saying the Pledge of Allegiance to reading from "The Communist Manifesto."
The Pledge of Allegiance was written by Francis Bellamy, a Baptist minister, in 1892. It quickly became part of the American fabric. School children said it each day with their hand placed over their hearts. The original pledge did not have the words "under God."
At the request of the Knights of Columbus and other groups, Congress added one nation "under God" in 1954.
A California atheist challenged the pledge, arguing it amounted to the U.S. government establishing a religion in violation of the First Amendment to the Constitution. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ultimately ruled 2-1 the Pledge of Allegiance does not violate the Establishment Clause.
More recently, NBC found itself in a pledge controversy during this year’s U.S. Open golf coverage. The network produced a montage with kids saying the Pledge of Allegiance while showing pictures of golf highlights.
But when viewers noticed the words "under God" were edited out, many complained. Three hours later, NBC made an on-air apology saying it had "forgotten" to put the whole pledge in.
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.”
Even after the compromise proposal passed and the council began its regular meeting Monday night, the pledge was still too hot to handle.
A motion to say the Pledge of Allegiance was shot down even though it would be the closest meeting to July Fourth. Those voting against the measure said it was just too soon. They’ll wait until the next meeting.