Proposal to Recite Pledge of Allegiance at Darien RTM Meetings Sparks Heated Debate

Darien's RTM Rules Committee members discuss a proposal to recite the Pledge of Allegiance on Feb. 13. 2024 (Darien 79).

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DARIEN — A meeting of the Representative Town Meeting Rules Committee erupted into a heated discussion about patriotism after one member proposed voting on whether the body should recite the Pledge of Allegiance.   

Rules Committee member Susan Marks said she added the discussion to the Tuesday meeting’s agenda because she believed reciting the 31-word pledge before every RTM meeting would be unifying. 

“I just think it’s a nice way to start a meeting,” she said.  “I just think it’s a very common way to start and brings us all together as a town. I think it just sets a good tone.”

In advocating for her proposal, Marks noted that Congress and the Connecticut General Assembly begin their sessions with the Pledge of Allegiance and that “quite a few towns in the state” also recite the pledge before town council meetings, including neighboring Greenwich, Stamford, Norwalk, Westport and Bridgeport.  

She also pointed out that Darien’s Board of Selectmen recites the pledge before its meetings.

Marks added that saying the pledge is “patriotic” and “respectful to people who have served in the military.”  

But RTM member Frank Kemp, a Korean War veteran, said a better way to demonstrate patriotism is by “doing some good” for the community as a volunteer or an elected official.  

“There’s so many other ways that you can be patriotic, but here’s the punchline: I don’t believe that we need to attest to our patriotism on a routine basis by rote as if we were in a ballgame or kindergarten,” he said.  

Kemp said forcing a public vote on whether to begin RTM meetings with the Pledge of Allegiance is “not healthy” and that the only way “to protect the people who may vote against this so they’re not called unpatriotic” is by holding a secret or confidential vote, as the committee does when voting on a moderator or ethics matters. 

Addressing Marks, Kemp said, “I’m concerned that the people who thoughtfully were against it will then be demeaned by the people who were enthusiastic about it. If you were to table your recommendation, it would be a relief that we don’t have to go through this.”

RTM member Peter Orphanos also spoke against Marks’ proposal, saying a vote on the matter would threaten the nonpartisan nature of the group.

 “There are going to be people who want this proposal to go through, other people who are not going to want it. And if we have to vote openly … we cannot ignore that it more likely than not will be on a partisan basis,” he added.

RTM member Jack Davis, sporting a white sweater adorned with a large American flag, said forcing a vote on Marks’ proposal would put the legislative body “in a no-win situation.” 

Davis also expressed concern about the potential for public backlash against Darien’s elected officials from outside activists.  

“I’m worried about possibly putting in harm’s way members of our body, not by people within town, but by the other radical groups that are out there with people’s names and addresses out there, and exposing them,” he said.

After hearing from her colleagues, Marks said she was “deeply disappointed” by the reaction  and surprised that her proposal was seen as controversial.  

“It’s just really sad for me to think that, in a town like this, that we all see each other in the grocery store and we’re all trying to do the right thing. … It’s a very sad thing for me to think that someone would be concerned about how they vote because of how someone would treat them afterwards,” she said.

Marks said the town’s elected officials should be willing to stand up for what they believe in.  

“I guess I feel like anytime I vote, I should be able to defend my vote up or down. And I would hope whether it’s a controversial issue, or a very simple issue, anyone that sits in any elected position in this town should be able to defend their vote. And they shouldn’t be feeling that … I can’t vote one way because I’m afraid of what someone’s going to say. Then maybe they shouldn’t be in public office,” she added.

After the discussion, no action was taken on the proposal.