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Conscientious objection to Pledge of Allegiance ruffles feathers

FREDERICK, Md. — A disagreement between a former U.S. Marine and a Quaker woman about the Pledge of Allegiance has sparked discussion about whether all county board and commission meetings should begin with the recitation.

The debate originated among members of the Frederick County Human Relations Commission, where a vote was tied about whether to open monthly meetings with the pledge. Among those opposed to requiring the tribute was commission member Annette Breiling, who said her Quaker faith reserves expressions of allegiance for God rather than for flag or country.

But Chris Huckenpoehler, a former Marine who sits on the 15-member human relations commission, was so troubled by his colleagues’ reluctance that he offered his resignation to county commissioners Sunday.

“I cannot with good conscience serve on a group with any members that deny or vote against an allowance to Pledge Allegiance to our American Flag,” he wrote in an email.

Three commissioners quickly fired back messages in support of Huckenpoehler, rejecting his resignation and batting around ideas for incorporating the pledge into all county board and commission meetings.

They say they plan to discuss the topic at today’s county commissioners meeting.

Commissioners President Blaine Young suggested requiring the tribute on all meeting agendas, as long as those who do not want to participate are free to abstain. Commissioner Kirby Delauter says he’s torn about whether to force the pledge onto boards and commissions.

“The military and patriotic side of me says yes, but the anti-dictator side says no,” Delauter said. “It’s a shame we’re even having this conversation, to be honest with you.”

On Tuesday, he said he’s inclined to recommend, but not require, a recitation of the pledge.

Commissioner Billy Shreve agrees that boards and commissions should begin meetings with the statement and said he would contact the county attorney to look into the issue.

Angela Spencer, chairwoman of the human relations commission, said Huckenpoehler made the initial suggestion to open meetings with the pledge. The group took a vote on the issue at the commission’s September gathering; four commission members supported including the pledge, four opposed it, and one person abstained, she said.

Spencer said she voted with Huckenpoehler.

However, she said involvement by county commissioners isn’t necessarily a good thing. It might even set a negative precedent that would lead board and commission members to appeal their conflicts rather than work them out.

Commissioner Paul Smith said he is reluctant to interfere with how boards and commissions conduct their business. Though he said he views the pledge as a “broad and profound symbol” that unites Americans across political divides, he argued that requiring the recitation would take away from its meaning.

“If you make it mandatory, it kind of undermines the genuine, spontaneous patriotism that you’d like to see in place,” he said.

Commissioner David Gray said he also opposes an across-the-board requirement.

Breiling, who joined the human relations commission last month, said she is sorry her beliefs might result in Huckenpoehler’s departure. Her conscience prevents her from joining in the pledge, but she said she always aims to be respectful while others are reciting it. She said she stands and mouths her own version: “I pledge respect to the peoples of all nations in the world and to these beliefs for which I stand, one world, under peace, with liberty and justice for all.”

She said she appreciates her community and country, but is uneasy with exalting America.

“My belief is in the work of all nations,” she said. “I get concerned about trying to set our nation over and above others. I think that can lead to militarism and cruelty to others.”

Her Quaker community has sent her numerous expressions of support since learning of the debate among the human relations commission, she said.

Delauter said he thinks Breiling is overlooking the fact that she’s able to follow her religious convictions because of the liberties that America offers.

The tradition of saying the pledge during commissioners meetings dates back to the mid-1990s, when the board introduced it to their evening hearings. In the early 2000s, commissioners also added the recitation to their work-sessions, county staff reported.

Huckenpoehler, who has served on the human relations commission since July 2011, is also a columnist for The Frederick News-Post. He did not respond to messages seeking comment.
 

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