Thou Shalt Recite the Pledge at meetings.
It is the unwritten Eleventh Commandment of local governments, and not just in the conservative South: last month the overwhelmingly Democratic and liberal New Jersey State Senate unanimously approved a bill that would require all government bodies and agencies to display the American flag and recite the Pledge of Allegiance before meetings, even though that’s mostly been the practice anyway.
In Flagler County, the practice is unfailing–at government meetings, advisory council meetings, committee meetings, classrooms, and so on. The school board even makes sure to have an honor guard led by its Junior ROTC students start every business meeting, with the live singing of the National Anthem to boot: when the promised singer didn’t show up at a recent meeting, one of the board members led the audience in a collective performance.
But when the Flagler County School Board gathered today for a noon workshop, dubbed a “retreat,” at the county’s Cattlemen’s Hall, on the deserted grounds of the county fairgrounds, it faced what could have been a minor crisis.
There was no flag. Not even at Cattlemen’s Hall, usually a hothouse of patriotism.
“We don’t have a flag,” Trevor Tucker, the board’s new chairman, whose idea it was to retreat to the hall, said. Then the fateful words: “We’ll skip the Pledge.” Tucker was characteristically in a hurry to get down to business.
There was no audience to speak of, no one who would have objected, no penalties for not reciting the Pledge. One of the board members was missing. But some of Tucker’s remaining colleagues seemed a bit uncomfortable. What if words of the skipped Pledge got out, you could almost hear them think–excusable fears in an age when the slightest doubt about a politician’s patriotism, however bogus the charge, could spell doom at the ballot box.
There was word about hunting down a flag. It was the county fairgrounds, after all (it was at a world’s fair in Chicago that the Pledge had its debut), though no one seemed interested in trotting outside, facing the grounds’ flagpole and reciting: it was damp and unusually, seasonably cold. Janet McDonald then suggested bringing a flag of her own. She apparently keeps one in her car. She is also facing John Fisher in a re-match in the next election, Fisher being the county’s dean emeritus of all things patriotic: he could have made hay with whispered words of a skipped pledge.
Colleen Conklin was intrigued, particularly about the flag-in-the-car part.
But by then Jacob Oliva, who’s paid to resolve critical issues for the board, resolved this one in Flagler School District-style: with technology. While board members were deliberating over what to do, he’d googled a Flag on his smart phone. In living color. Problem solved.
Everyone got up, Oliva held out the phone so it faced the five other people around the table (he and Tucker had to make do with imagination and the white rim of the phone), hands went over hearts, and the words of Francis Bellamy, that lyrical socialist, spilled out at Cattlemen’s Hall.