Resident who asked Issaquah School Board to drop pledge asks City Council to follow suit
January 5, 2010
By Warren Kagarise
NEW — 12:27 p.m. Jan. 5, 2009
A city resident asked the City Council to drop the Pledge of Allegiance from meetings Monday — less than a month after he asked the Issaquah School Board to remove the pledge from its meetings.
Moments after council and audience members recited the pledge, longtime Issaquah Highlands resident Matt Barry said the pledge should be eliminated because the oath is offensive to atheists and irrelevant to city business.
“You are here to discuss transportation, services, operations, etc.,” Barry said. “Taking a position on religious questions such as this, whether this nation is under zero, one or more gods is, literally, none of the government’s business.”
Francis Bellamy, a Baptist minister, wrote the original pledge in 1892. Congress added the words “under God” in 1954.
“The words ‘under God,’ which were added to the pledge in 1954, are offensive to many atheists,” Barry said. “And it’s offensive that our government officials, the mayor and City Council, ask atheists to stand and declare a belief in a god.”
The pledge and whether the oath should be recited in public schools and government meetings is a frequent flashpoint.
Barry referenced a 2002 ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, when a three-judge panel declared the pledge unconstitutional because the language included “under God.” The circuit includes Washington and eight other Western states.
Atheist Michael Newdow brought on the case after his daughter was taught the pledge in a California school district. The ruling was reversed on a procedural matter in 2004, after the U.S. Supreme Court said Newdow lacked the standing to bring the suit on behalf of his daughter.
Barry described the original pledge language as inoffensive.
“I should clarify that I have no problems with the original pledge,” he said. “The original pledge, which was recited from 1892 to 1954, did not mention God. Depending on your age, your grandparents, parents or you yourself recited a godless pledge as schoolchildren back in the 1920s, ’30s, ’40s or early ’50s.”
“I’ve always thought that if a godless pledge was good enough for the World War I and World War II generations, it should be good enough for us,” Barry added.
Longtime City Council members said the request to remove the pledge from meetings was the first in memory.
Council President John Traeger, elevated to the top council spot at the meeting, said the council had no plans yet to discuss the pledge issue.
On Dec. 9, Barry asked the Issaquah School Board to remove the pledge from meetings. Barry, a district parent, said “the words ‘under God’ in the pledge are offensive to your atheist residents in this school district.”
The board indicated members could address the pledge issue in the future.
State law requires public school students to recite the pledge and conduct flag salute exercises at the start of each school day, but schools cannot force students to participate. Local government meetings are not required to include the pledge.
Mayor Ava Frisinger — elected to office in 1997 and re-elected since — said she could not recall a challenge to the pledge during her years as mayor, or when she served as a councilwoman beforehand.
“When I say we’re going to do the pledge, I invite people to join us,” Frisinger said.
Before Frisinger ascended to the top spot, council meetings opened with invocations. Frisinger recalled how the prayer made some meeting attendees uncomfortable. She then consulted with council members, and officials agreed to drop invocations from meetings.
Barry also referenced the anti-discrimination resolution passed by the council in 2002. The resolution includes protections for race, religion and other characteristics.
“I don’t think anyone would conclude that the city is doing its best to treat atheists with dignity and respect by asking them to stand and contradict their personally held beliefs,” Barry said. “On the contrary, it has been blatantly disrespectful and therefore a violation of your own anti-discrimination resolution.”