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Despite resistance, Fargo School Board to recite Pledge of Allegiance at meetings

Concerns over divisiveness and the language in the pledge caused lengthy debate at Tuesday's board meeting.

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FARGO — The Fargo Board of Education passed a motion 6-2 on Tuesday, March 22 to begin each board meeting by saying the Pledge of Allegiance.

A vote in approval appeared to be a “no brainer” for some board members, including Nikkie Gullickson, but the motion — proposed by board member David Paulson — was met with some resistance by other board members.

Board members Seth Holden and Jim Johnson voted against the motion; Paulson, Gullickson, Jennifer Benson, Brian Nelson, Robin Nelson and Rebecca Knutson voted in favor.

Holden, who is nearly two years into his first term, spoke at length about why he was opposed to the motion. Religious beliefs, or the lack thereof, was one of the reasons he cited that made him vote against saying the Pledge of Allegiance at every board meeting.

“Will this act cause the board to do better work? I would answer no,” said Holden. “I would argue that our work might not get better because of the divisiveness this could create because of not every person not wanting to partake in the Pledge of Allegiance.”

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Several board members took a precautionary stance with some words in the Pledge of Allegiance, including “under God” and, for Holden, “not every single person in this country has liberty and justice,” he said.

“If I don't want to do this Pledge of Allegiance at every single board meeting it’s not because I don’t have allegiance to my country, it’s not because I don't love my country, it’s because there are words in the Pledge of Allegiance that I don’t think are true,” Holden said.

“Unless we can acknowledge the problems we have, we will never be able to fix this,” Holden said.

Johnson agreed with Holden, saying that his message was on point.

“It leads to a possible situation in the future that could create issues for the board as opposed to making our work easier,” said Johnson.

“I’m an Eagle Boy Scout, so the Pledge of Allegiance is near and dear to my heart. I’m an elder in a Presbyterian church, so the Lord and Savior is near and dear to my heart,” Johnson said.

“My biggest problem with this motion is that in 1954, the year before I was born, they altered the words of the Pledge of Allegiance to (include) ‘under God,’ making it, quite frankly, a Judeo Christian pledge rather than a pledge to a nation,” said Johnson, who wondered if the wording could be changed to the pre-1954 version.

“The words ‘under God’ have concern for me, not me personally, but knowing individuals that don’t feel the same way I feel,” said Knutson, board president. “I see it as also the opportunity for restriction, even though there is the ability for a person to not say the pledge or not stand for the pledge.”

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Board member Robin Nelson said the issue was being made more difficult than needed. “It would be really hard not to vote for this motion, but I think we can respect everyone’s opinions,” she said.

“I can already point out that just for the fact that I didn’t second your motion, I’ve already been emailed and called a communist several times, which I am not. I am an American. I was born here. I will die here. And I love this place,” Holden said.

“I don’t think for a second that any one of you will deem me un-American if I don’t stand for the pledge, but it’s going to create a lot of noise that makes it difficult for us to do our work. And I don’t want to see that happen,” Holden said.

“Would this be considered the policy now, and if so, if you don’t follow the policy would you get in trouble?” said Brian, before the vote took place.

“I thought this would be a no-brainer,” said Gullickson. “I’ve recited this from Kindergarten to God knows when. I am not willing to put this into a policy for disciplinary action for someone who does not follow those beliefs.”

“Freedom is not free, and what allows you to do that is the sacrifice our soldiers have made for you to be able to express your opinions. To not honor it doesn’t make sense to me,” said Benson.

“I absolutely support starting every meeting (by saying the Pledge of Allegiance),” Benson said.

“Patriotism is something that lives in your heart, it’s not necessarily something you have to shout from the rooftop every day. And if you are insinuating that I disrespect anyone who sacrificed their life for this country? That’s grotesque,” said Holden.

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No penalties for noncompliance were part of the motion, and the first pledge of allegiance will begin at the April 12 board meeting, said AnnMarie Campbell, district spokeswoman.

Related Topics: FARGO PUBLIC SCHOOLS
C.S. Hagen is an award-winning journalist currently covering the education and activist beats mainly in North Dakota and Minnesota.
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