One-fifth of villages on Long Island don’t hold the Pledge of Allegiance to start off their monthly board meetings, contrary to the traditional routine at most local government meetings, the Press has found.
At least 22 of the 97 villages in Nassau and Suffolk counties skip the salute to the flag that is common practice at other legislative bodies locally and nationwide. The revelation comes on the eve of Flag Day, which commemorates the adoption of the stars and stripes as the national symbol 240 years ago.
Dennis Dietrich, commander of Massapequa American Legion Post 1066, said he was shocked to hear the statistic. His veterans group is among organizations nationwide that host an annual “Pause for the Pledge,” scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, in honor of Flag Day.
“To me, that’s really being unAmerican,” he said of villages skipping the pledge. “This is the United States of America. People died for their freedom…and to not say the Pledge of Allegiance at municipal meetings is disgraceful.”
Voluntarily spending about 10 seconds standing to face the flag and recite the 31-word pledge of allegiance is how board meetings begin at the 13 towns on LI, Glen Cove and Long Beach cities, the Nassau and Suffolk county legislatures, the New York City council, both chambers of the state legislature as well as both chambers of Congress.
Of course, neither American governments nor their residents are legally required to recite the pledge, although state law does mandate the patriotic oath be recited in classrooms at the start of each school day. Those in attendance at meetings or classrooms where the pledge is recited are free to abstain, as the courts have long settled the right to silently protest by not saluting the flag. Although not doing so has occasionally sparked local controversy, such as in the case of two Copiague High School teachers that knelt during the pledge on President Donald Trump’s inauguration day.
“To believe that patriotism will not flourish if patriotic ceremonies are voluntary and spontaneous instead of a compulsory routine is to make an unflattering estimate of the appeal of our institutions to free minds,” the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson famously wrote in the landmark 1954 ruling that found students cannot be compelled to recite the pledge.
Still, most villages on LI consider the pledge important enough to document it in either their board meeting minutes or agendas, sometimes both. Those that don’t hold the pledge are sometimes called out to publicly justify their decision.
“I am not going to do the Pledge of Allegiance,” Saltaire Mayor John Zaccaro told residents when one noted that it was Fourth of July weekend upon asking the mayor to lead the room in the pledge during a village board meeting on July 2, 2016. “Not that I’m not American or patriotic, but I don’t feel comfortable going forward doing that…I apologize if that offends your sensibilities, but that’s the way I’d like to proceed.”
That was one of the first village board meetings as mayor for Zaccaro, the son of the late U.S. Rep. Geraldine Ferraro (D-Queens), who went down in history in 1984 as the first female candidate female vice presidential candidate for a major political party. Saltaire officials historically did not recite the pledge at every meeting but it was a change from the prior village mayor, who had done so at each meeting for six years until being unseated last spring.
When the change in practice was reported in the Fire Island News, Zaccaro wrote a letter to the editor defending his decision.
“My choice of meeting procedures is in no way a reflection on my patriotism or love of this country, both of which are deeply-felt and undivided,” he wrote.
Other local villages where officials have said they do not regularly hold the pledge at their meetings are Belle Terre, Centre Island, Cove Neck, Great Neck Plaza, Hewlett Bay Park, Hewlett Neck, Hewlett Harbor, Kensington, Kings Point, Lattingtown, Lawrence, Lloyd Harbor, Mattinecock, Munsey Park, Old Brookville, Old Westbury, Russel Gardens, Sands Point, Thomaston, Upper Brookville and Woodsburgh. East Hills was the only village on LI that did not answer repeated requests for comment on whether it holds the pledge.
Villages skipping the pledge had irked State Assemb. Gary Finch (R-Springport) so much that he passed a resolution proclaiming June 14 as Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag Day in the state in 2004 to mark the 50th anniversary of the oft-debated decision to add the words “under god” to the pledge. Critics argue those two words violate the constitutional separation of church and state.
Finch said: “As I stood at the Capitol listening to the pledge reverberate through the great halls, I grew perplexed as to why anyone would want to deny this great oath.”