BENNINGTON — To pledge or not to pledge: that is a question the Bennington Select Board is grappling with.
After emerging from more than a year of remote Zoom meetings, during which reciting the Pledge of Allegiance was discontinued as impractical, the board this month began live meetings again in the Bennington Fire Facility meeting room — but the pledge has yet to return.
Some residents want to see the board revive what had been a longstanding practice in Bennington, although it is said in few, if any, other communities or school districts in the county.
Board Chairwoman Jeannie Jenkins said she and board member Jim Carroll are acting as a subcommittee to look at whether the Pledge should be brought back.
“We stopped saying the Pledge at the beginning of meetings back in March 2020,” she said in an email. “Based on a question from the only community member to raise it with me, I did look at minutes from all towns in Bennington County, and it appears we are the only community in the county that has said the Pledge. … So in many ways we have been an outlier.”
Jenkins said she and Carroll are continuing to research the issue and what other towns are doing, adding, “I think that Jim and I will want to make a recommendation to the board at the next meeting.”
A survey of local cable channel recordings of other Bennington County select board sessions found none of the larger county towns reciting the Pledge at recent meetings.
Jenkins noted that the board also has been considering for some time other changes in the meeting format, including adding recitation of the town’s vision statement, which was adopted last year; revisions to the public comment process and to the agenda items that appear for every meeting.
“Looking at the purpose of the Pledge in our meetings is not meant to be contentious or disrespectful, but instead to re-examine why we do what we do,” Jenkins said.
LETTERS IN FAVOR
Meanwhile, the Banner has received two letters from residents who want the board to restore reciting the Pledge at the start of meetings.
And state Rep. Mary Morrissey, R-Bennington, said this week that she has heard from a number of residents since the Pledge recitation was discontinued last spring, voicing concerns and asking when and how that decision was made.
“I was disappointed in the decision not to say the Pledge,” Morrissey said. “It just happened.”
There appeared to be a “behind the scenes” decision that wasn’t explained, Morrissey said, and it ended “a significant and long-standing tradition honored at our meetings. I hope we can get back to saying it.”
She added, “To me, it’s a sign of respect or honor toward our country,” and those who would rather not recite it are not required to participate.
Carroll said Tuesday, “Jeannie and I are talking about it, and I am leaning toward restoration of it for a variety of reasons.”
He said he views the Pledge and the town vision statement as similar — they are both aspirational statements.
In Manchester, the Select Board also stopped saying the Pledge during the pandemic when only remote online meetings were held.
“More than a couple of years ago a longtime, frequent attendee to Select Board meetings suggested that board meetings should start with the Pledge,” Town Manager John O’Keefe said in an email. “The board agreed.”
During the pandemic, the board “recited the Pledge for some of the meetings. It wasn’t easy, though. No flag most of the time, and the slight delay made any sense of group cadence very difficult at best.”
The Manchester board didn’t recite the Pledge at its first in-person meeting, O’Keefe said.
“It wasn’t anything conscious, though,” he said. “I think they are just getting their feet back under them.”
O’Keefe added, “I like starting the meetings with the Pledge (or some other sort of ceremony). I think it gets the board members, public attendees and town staff dialed-in or focused on the meeting. I also should add, personally, I don’t think that one board that starts with the Pledge is more patriotic than a board that doesn’t. Having attended countless meetings over the last 25 plus years of government service at the state and local level, most meetings do not start with the Pledge.”
According to the website USHistory.org, the Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892 by the socialist Christian minister Francis Bellamy. It was originally published in “The Youth’s Companion,” and Bellamy hoped it would be used by citizens in any country.
In 1923, according to the website, the words, “the Flag of the United States of America” were added to the Pledge; and in 1954, during the Cold War with the Soviet Union, Congress added the words “under God.”
The current wording is as follows: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”