An Atheist Elected Official in Vermont Is Being Criticized for Not Saying the Pledge of Allegiance February 27, 2017

An Atheist Elected Official in Vermont Is Being Criticized for Not Saying the Pledge of Allegiance

Hartford, Vermont Selectwoman Rebecca White, a 22-year-old atheist member of the local government, is facing a lot of criticism for the silliest of reasons: She stands for the Pledge of Allegiance at meetings… but doesn’t actually say the words.

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“I was raised as a Buddhist,” said White. “My mom and I, we had a really open discussion about it. She said, ‘if you want, you can say the pledge, but you don’t have to.’ I chose not to say the ‘under God’ piece because it didn’t reflect me.

White, who now regards herself as an atheist and is a member of a Unitarian Universalist Church in Hartland, said she understands that not saying the pledge can be offensive to some people, but that she’s not being intentionally provocative.

“I don’t want to say something that makes me feel uncomfortable. It makes me uncomfortable because of a religious belief,” she said. “It’s not because I don’t value the contribution made by veterans and folks in the armed forces.”

There’s nothing wrong with that explanation whatsoever. If you don’t believe in God, then saying we’re a nation “under God” makes no sense. If you don’t believe we truly have “justice for all” in this country, then saying we do is little more than wishful thinking.

But White doesn’t stop others from saying the Pledge. And she hasn’t tried to replace it with a moment of silence. She just doesn’t participate in it herself.

And that’s infuriating to local Christians who demand lip service to symbols:

White’s decision not to say the pledge has only recently led her Facebook critics to insult her as a “disgusting” person who should be “ashamed,” but it has been noticed among some area veterans since 2015, when she first won the post by eking out a 593-580 victory over [Selectman Mike] Morris (Morris won his seat in 2016).

“She stands, and she places her hand over her heart, and she closes her eyes,” said Lannie Collins, a 50-year-old technical instructor at the Thayer School of Engineering who often offers pointed comments to the Selectboard on a variety of issues.

Collins said White’s lack of forgiveness offends him as a Christian, and her refusal to say the pledge offends him as a 20-year veteran.

“I was very offended,” said Collins, a member of Hanover’s Christ Redeemer Church. “I believe if you don’t say it, it’s disrespectful for all of those who have died.”

When Collins is willing to say a Pledge with the words “We’re a nation under no God,” I’ll take his whining more seriously. Until then, he has everything backwards. Veterans died to protect our right to free speech, including acts of protest. Forcing people to say a Pledge against their will sounds like the very thing our troops have always fought against.

Despite all that, White offered a concession of sorts:

Meanwhile, White offered to take a dramatic step herself.

“If a board member were to ask me to resign based on the fact I don’t say the pledge, I would step down,” she said.

Morris said that, while the pledge is personally important to him, he will not ask White to step down.

“She has the freedom to do what she wants,” he said.

I guess that’s a happy ending? I don’t see why White should even offer to step down when she did nothing wrong. Meanwhile, Morris is guilty of forwarding an email showing a “racist depiction of President Obama, his family and former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.” He apologized for it, but he’s not stepping down over that, and that’s a far more egregious act that anything White is doing.

White’s actions remind me of that saying

“She had appeared to violate the rule. She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”

(Side note: My favorite part of White’s bio? She calls her pet fish Ruth “Beta” Ginsburg.)

(Image via Facebook. Thanks to Brian for the link)


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