Decorah Mayor Don Arendt said he was "shocked and saddened" by recent comments made by some Council members regarding the Pledge of Allegiance.
During the Council's Jan. 7 meeting, the topic of the Pledge came up during a discussion of Council policies and procedures. At that meeting, Council member Julie Fischer asked why every meeting begins with the Pledge, and suggested it be expanded to include a pledge to the earth.
She read the pledge she would add:
"I pledge allegiance to the earth and all the life which it supports. One planet, in our care, irreplaceable, with sustenance and respect for all."
Council member Rachel Vagts said last month she wasn't opposed to saying the Pledge, but questioned why it should be a city policy requirement. She said the Pledge could be considered "public prayer."
Vagts said saying the Pledge should be up to the mayor but not official policy. The policy states the meetings will "generally" begin with a roll call vote and the Pledge of Allegiance, which Council members ultimately decided was a guideline, but not a mandate. The Council continues to start each meeting with the Pledge, something Arendt initiated two years ago.
"During my nine years on the Council and seven years as mayor, I never expected the reaction I received. The statements about the Pledge greatly disturbed me," Arendt said at the beginning of Monday night's Council meeting.
Mayor receives support
Since the Jan. 7 meeting, the mayor said he has received numerous calls, e-mails and personal visits from citizens supporting his position.
"I even got a lengthy call from a Waterloo resident who is considering moving to Decorah and now has expressed reservations if the Pledge discussion represented the Decorah community. I assured him it didn't represent the overall feeling of the Council and our Decorah residents. We do not live in a microcosm. What we say and do affects our whole community," Arendt said.
He said he "strongly supports" the "under God" addition to the Pledge added by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1954.
Arendt cited quotes from President Barack Obama's inaugural speech. The president said "Freedom is a gift of God" and "Pledge to the flag above and fill us with pride." Arendt noted the president concluded his remarks with "God bless."
"Growing up during World War II and having several uncles that served during that war brings special meaning to me and our flag. As an Army veteran and having three brothers that served in the Army during the Vietnam War - one a medic on the battle lines - I believe in the symbolism of the flag," Arendt said.
"I encourage all Council members to check the Internet to see what the Pledge of Allegiance means. I hope the next time we say the Pledge we can say it with pride and we can reflect on the words and use them to better serve our country and community," Arendt said.
At the conclusion of Monday's meeting, when Council members have the opportunity to bring up any topics not on the agenda, Fischer and Vagts responded to the mayor's remarks.
Fischer said she had wanted to know whether saying the Pledge is a legal requirement for the Council.
"I did not object to it being done. If I did not feel allegiance to my country, I wouldn't be sitting here or doing any of the other things I'm engaged in in this community. If I hurt your feelings, I apologize," she told the mayor.
She said she brought up a pledge of allegiance to the entire earth because she said it's good to remember, "we're all in this together." She said her intention was not to supplant pledging allegiance to the country or the flag, but "to extend another pledge of allegiance to humanity and the rest of the earth."
Vagts said she echoed Fischer's sentiment.
"I'm sorry if I offended you," Vagts told the mayor. "It was certainly not my intent. It was a healthy conversation ... a hallmark of our democracy is free and open discussions on this topic, and I hope we continue to do so in the future."