Last month, the St. Louis Park City Council voted to stop reciting the Pledge of Allegiance at most meetings, due to concerns that some residents in the “increasingly diverse community” might find it “unwelcoming.”
Since then, the council has painfully learned how unwelcome its hasty action was to many in the community and around the nation.
About 100 angry, vocal protesters, many waving U.S. flags, confronted council members earlier this week, pressing them to reverse their decision. Following that outpouring, council members have sensibly and rightly agreed to reconsider.
On Wednesday, a council spokesperson e-mailed an editorial writer to say that the council would have a “a future study session’’ during which members will consider having a public conversation with constituents about “the role of civic expressions in our work, including the Pledge of Allegiance, and how to best express our values and principles in order to create a more engaging civic space for all of our neighbors.’’ A date had not been set for taking another vote.
Clearly, the council failed to anticipate the community reaction to its pledge decision; it came in one part of a sentence folded into a resolution changing council meeting times. It was done without much study or public input and apparently was seen as a detail about the process for gaveling a meeting to order.
“Not everyone who does business with the city or has a conversation [with the council] is a citizen,” said Council Member Anne Mavity, who sponsored the change. “They certainly don’t need to … pledge their allegiance to our country in order to tell us … about a sidewalk in front of their home.’’
Another council member, Tim Brausen, added at the time of the vote that he and his colleagues were worried that reciting the pledge could intimidate newer residents, citing an increasingly polarized political climate, especially over federal immigration policies.
Now the council faces a local and national backlash that accuses it of being unpatriotic, even anti-American. And it’s dragged immigrant communities into that same light — even though those communities hadn’t asked council members for the change.
As the Star Tribune Editorial Board noted when this decision first made news, it is the perogative of an elected body — or any other public or private group for that matter — to decide for itself whether to recite the pledge. And those who attend are not required to join in. Some city councils recite the pledge to start meetings, others do not.
But the council’s stated reason struck us then as off-kilter. And it’s become even more apparent since the decision that many cherish the traditional display of patriotic pride and want it to continue.
The issue has received national attention after a Fox News story, which prompted President Donald Trump to tweet “… [In Minnesota] our Patriots are now having to fight for the right to say the Pledge of Allegiance. I will be fighting with you!’’
As is often the case, Trump’s assessment is not quite accurate. No one’s right to say the pledge was taken away or endangered by the City Council’s vote.
It’s no doubt unfortunate that the pledge has become a weapon in today’s deeply divided culture and politics. For some, it’s a simple affirmation of devotion to country. Others hear an empty promise of “liberty and justice for all’’ that has never been wholly fulfilled. But surely love of country and a longing to see it better live up to its ideals can and should coexist.
What’s clear for elected public officials is that decisions about the pledge must be made carefully, in consultation with the communities they serve.