Two members of a Maine town council are refusing to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance at public meetings, a move that's attracted plenty of attention since video of the pair's silent protest was posted online.
Officials in Hampden, Maine — a town of about 7,000 that sits 6 miles south of Bangor along the Penobscot River — said they have been inundated with phone calls complaining about the council members' March 17 actions, WLBZ-TV in Bangor reported.
While the furor grows, one the men embroiled in it told TheBlaze on Thursday why he's been opting out of the pledge since reciting it became council policy in January.
Thomas Brann, a Vietnam veteran who's not registered with any political party and has been serving on the town council for the better part of 14 years, told TheBlaze he disagreed with Mayor Carol Duprey's spoken introduction of the pledge, which she said was to pay tribute to those in uniform "currently serving in harm's way."
Here's a clip of the spoken introduction and the pledge itself:
For Brann, "every single person supporting the Constitution" deserves honor and respect, not just those in combat — and it's wrong for Duprey to leave others out.
Brann told TheBlaze he would stand for the pledge if Duprey's "in harm's way" qualifier was struck from her introduction: "For me that would be enough."
Duprey told TheBlaze Thursday evening that at the Feb. 18 council meeting, which she didn't attend, there was no introduction to the pledge or tribute regarding troops — just an announcement that the pledge would commence — and that neither Brann nor Shakespeare stood for the pledge.
Video of the Feb. 18 meeting reflects Duprey's assertion, which she said invalidates Brann's insistence that he'd stand for the pledge if she didn't give her tribute for the troops.
Duprey added that the growing controversy is "just crazy" and that she introduced the idea of reciting the pledge solely as a way to "honor the flag," never anticipating it would become an issue.
Brann's ally in this battle is fellow council member William Shakespeare, who's also sitting out the pledge. They were the only two members to vote against reciting the pledge when it became the policy.
Shakespeare — who didn't respond Thursday to a request for comment from TheBlaze — did say he “could not believe this was on the agenda” when he saw it at the January meeting, the Bangor Daily News reported.
“Honestly, I think it’s ludicrous to make councilors get up there and pledge their allegiance," Shakespeare said at the meeting. "I don’t think there’s anybody in this room who is more patriotic than I am. I don’t think there is anybody in this room who has done more military service — over 30 years — than I have. … Patriotic? Absolutely. But I don’t think the council should have to get up there and pledge [their] allegiance."
And as you might imagine — as town politics usually go — there's plenty more controversy percolating that's led to Brann and Shakespeare's silent protest.
Brann told TheBlaze that the council's vigorously debated decision to start meetings with the pledge is part of a larger "Tea Party, extreme conservative Republican" push to take over town politics and "embarrass" and "discredit" him and Shakespeare.
[sharequote align="center"]...part of a larger "Tea Party, extreme conservative Republican" push.[/sharequote]
Duprey told TheBlaze on Thursday night that she is not politically affiliated and is "not a Tea Party member, nor is anyone else on council as far as I know."
Brann said the group responsible for posting the video of him and Shakespeare sitting out the pledge — the Hampden Association of Landowners — has been out to get the two council members for a long while.
The association describes itself as "a volunteer grassroots group of local Hampden area citizens" who banded together in reaction to a 2010 land use plan they describe as an "extreme land grab, [with] total disregard for private property rights."
Brann described the group a "cultish organization" that's giving the Tea Party a bad name. Groups like it are overshadowing the "valid points" rank-and-file Tea Party adherents made early on, Brann told TheBlaze, and because of them the Tea Party "is losing credibility," which Brann called "a major loss."
Lisa Carter, president of Hampden Association of Landowners, told TheBlaze on Friday that Brann's statements regarding the organization are "vicious and false."
Carter added that Brann calling the association "cultish" is "nothing more than shock politics...to silence the public and get the attention off the real issues. The real issue being to stop Agenda 21 in our town and to get our property and property rights back."
Brann told TheBlaze that he and Shakespeare are preparing an op-ed column for the Bangor Daily News that outlines their positions; it could be published as early as Saturday, Brann said.
Meanwhile Hampden town manager Susan Lessard told WLBZ she can't do anything about Brann and Shakespeare sitting out the pledge because they have the right to do so.
Sam Cannon, a member of Hampden's VFW and Maine's Air National Guard told WLBZ that if the two council members are staying seated "for the right purpose," he's all for them "exercising their constitutional amendment rights."